This brief discusses suicide exposure and its consequences, particularly among law enforcement officers.
Suicide exposure is personally knowing someone who died by suicide or being in the presence of a suicide death. Studies in the United States report that about half of people personally know someone who has died by suicide. Law enforcement officers encounter a great number of traumatic events in the course of their work. Responding to the scene of a suicide is often difficult because of the violence of the scene, the intense emotions of the surviving family and friends at the scene, and the way that the scene may remind officers of other events in their lives. High levels of occupational exposure to suicide are associated with behavioral health consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), persistent thoughts of a suicide scene, and the inability to shake a scene. Being unable to shake a scene and having that memory stick with them are associated with increased symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and their own thoughts of suicide. Officers who are exposed to multiple or traumatic suicide scenes or who have lost a fellow officer to suicide may need support to function at their best after their experience. Training can mitigate the effects of this trauma on officers’ mental health. This includes not only suicide awareness and prevention training, but also departments’ willingness to foster a culture of help-seeking for when officers encounter difficult scenes.
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