DENVER (KDVR) – Sept. 26 is National Law Enforcement Suicide Awareness Day. A local police department is mourning the loss of one of their officers who took his own life over the weekend. It is the latest in a concerning trend of police suicides. Experts call it an epidemic and say more first responders die by suicide than are killed in the line of duty.
Dr. Sara Metz is a public safety psychologist who started Code 4 Counseling to help first responders.
“I don’t think you ever get used to hearing that news. I’ve been doing this job 12 years and every time we hear of a death by suicide, it is heartbreaking. What we actually want people to hear is they are allowed to not be OK. We are hearing that phrase kind of more and more, and we really need the culture to step up and embrace each other and recognize the amount of psychological stress injury right now is overwhelming,” Metz said. “Collectively in the community, everyone is feeling a heightened sense of stress right now. But law enforcement has had this culture for so many years of, ‘You’re fine, suck it up, don’t worry about it.’ It’s a weakness if you’re injured. Right now, more than ever, we need individual officers, leadership and the collective culture to come forward and say, ‘We have to do better.’ We have to really make sure people understand psychological stress injury is a part of this job, just like physical stress injury. There are lots of things we can do to help people heal, but we have to know that they’re injured.”
Metz just designed the nation’s first master’s degree program for military and first responder mental wellness. It is being offered through Colorado State University Global.
The first class has students from all over the country. Metz said there is definitely a need for clinicians who understand the military and first responder culture.
“What we know about military and responders is they want so badly to take care of others, they worry about going to counseling and traumatizing the clinician. So having culturally competent clinicians specially trained to take on this level of care really helps the individuals needing that care is that it’s going to be OK. It seems so simple but for this culture, talking about it is a skill set they have not learned. Talking about emotion, talking about distress,” Metz said. “Cops want to organize every experience they have and they want to make sense of it before they will share it with somebody else. Because trauma and stress seem so overwhelming and intense, they can’t define it or explain it. Oftentimes they will keep it to themselves and go with the easier response is ‘I’m fine.’ We need to teach emotional language, labeling and regulation at the beginning of their careers.”
Steve Eastin is a retired police officer. In his 18-year law enforcement career, he was exposed to many traumatic events. And he said he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts after he retired.
“I look at suicide as the very final and fatal moment and the only reason I am still here is a very split-second intervention that had happened. What goes through your mind when you are ready to take your life is not what people think. You sit there and think about your whole life and mostly it is everything that is bad that has happened to you, what you’ve seen, what you’ve smelt, what you’ve touched — everything throughout your career. You’re in a tail spin, you just feel like you have no more to offer. You feel like you cannot repent for anything you did wrong in your life,” he said.
Eastin found relief writing his story down. It started as a journal and helped him with healing, so he decided to publish a book. It’s called “Backup After the Beat. You’re Not Crazy.”
He said, “What saved my life is a split-second intervention from my son. I was actually in an area where cellphone service was not supposed to work. I received a phone call from him, he said, ‘I’m just thinking of you. What’s wrong? Is something bad happening?’ I did not take that lightly. That was the intervention.”
Eastin is hoping to help others through very dark times and hopefully save lives. He is planning to have a blog where people can share their stories.
“It helps to actually talk about it and write about, you feel better,” he said.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or depression, the following resources are available:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255): Speak with someone who will provide free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To learn how to help someone in crisis, call the same number.
Colorado Crisis Services Hotline (1-844-493-8255): If you are in crisis or need help dealing with one, call 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255 to speak to a trained professional. When calling Colorado Crisis Services, you will be connected to a crisis counselor or trained professional with a master’s or doctoral degree.
The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386): A 24/7 resource for LGBT youth struggling with a crisis or suicidal thoughts. The line is staffed by trained counselors.
Colorado Crisis Services Walk-In Locations: Walk-in crisis service centers are open 24/7, and offer confidential, in-person crisis support, information and referrals to anyone in need.
Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline: (1-844-264-5437): The best resource for readers to report suspected child abuse and neglect.
The number serves as a direct, immediate and efficient route to all Colorado’s 64 counties and two tribal nations, which are responsible for accepting and responding to child abuse and neglect concerns. All callers are able to speak with a call-taker 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.