Department of Florida

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Law & Order: Chair

From the Chairman

September 2021

Study: Police Officers and Firefighters Are More Likely to Die by Suicide than in Line of Duty

A white paper commissioned by the Foundation revealed that first responders (police officers and firefighters) are more likely to die by suicide then in the line of duty. in 2017 there were at least 103 firefighter suicides and 140 police officer suicides. In contrast, 93 firefighters and 129 police officers died in the line of duty. Suicide is a result of mental illness, including depression and PTSD, which stems from constant exposure to death and destruction.

The white paper study, the Ruderman White Paper on Mental Health and Suicide of First Responders examines several factors contributing to mental health issues among first responders and what leads to their elevated rate of suicide. One study included in the white paper found that on average police officers witness 188 critical incidents during their careers. This exposure to trauma can lead to several forms of mental illness. For example, PTSD and depression rates among firefighters and police officers have been found to be as much as 5 times higher than the rates within the civilian population, which cause these first responders to commit suicide at a considerably higher rate (firefighters 18/100,000, police officers 17/100,000 and the general population 13/100,000). Even when suicide does not occur untreated mental illness can lead to poor physical health and impaired decision-making.

In addition, the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA) estimates that approximately 40% of firefighter suicides are reported. If these estimates are accurate, the actual number of 2017 suicides would be approximately equal to 257, which is more than twice the number of firefighters who died in the line of duty.

First Responders are the heroes who run toward danger every day to save the lives of others. “They are also human beings, and their work exerts a toll on their mental health”, said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “It is our obligation to support them in every way possible to make sure that they feel welcome and able to access life-saving mental health care. This white paper should serve as a critical call to action to all who care about our heroes in red and blue.”

The white paper also goes on to lay out several barriers that prevent first responders from accessing necessary mental health services to help them cope with trauma. Experts describe the shame and stigma surrounding mental health within professions that prioritize bravery and toughness, and the public remains largely unaware of these issues, since the vast majority of first responder suicides are not covered by the mainstream media. Additionally, of the 18,000 Law Enforcement Agencies across the United States approximately 3-5% have suicide prevention training programs.

We need to end the silence that surrounds the issue of first responders’ mental health. We should celebrate the lives of those lost to suicide- at National monuments such as the National Law Enforcement Memorial, in the media, and within police and fire departments around the Country. Ruderman added,” Departments should encourage and require first responders to access mental health services annually. This will enable our heroes to identify issues early and get the help that they need. It will save lives.”

Source: The White Papers, publication by the Ruderman Family Foundation.

NOTE: This article was written in 2017. Consider since then the problems confronted with our First Responders. The Covid-19 with its variables. Higher Suicide Rates. The ever-increasing lack of respect shown the First Responders by our own citizenry. The call for defunding an already low-funded profession, etc. Thus, as Legionnaires, it is vital that we support our first responders.

September 1, 2021, list of Chairman’s for the 2021-2022 year are due to the Department from Post, District, and Area. Be sure and submit your list to include a Law & Order Chairman so that we as the American Legion can continue to show our support for our Police, Fire, Paramedics and Hospital Staff and reward them for their service and for standing on that “Thin Blue/Red Line”.

Daryl Bass
Law & Order Chair