Another officer suicide rocks Chicago Police Department
By Robert Foreman

Suicides among law enforcement personnel continue to be a growing problem in departments around the country. Some cities have seen more officers take their own lives than others. In Chicago, Officer Paul O. Escamilla, 40, recently took his own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Escamilla, who was off-duty, was found dead in a forest preserve. Escamilla’s death is the fourth officer suicide in the city in 2019 and the eighth since 2018. He was a 17-year-veteran of the force.

“No one should feel they are alone, or think they have nowhere to turn, especially our first responders. From the moment they put on their uniform, they answer a call that at any second may put their lives in danger or inflict trauma. That is why we, as a city, have an obligation to constantly strengthen the support network they have, and strive to end any negative perception of reaching out for help. Chicago’s first responders deserve nothing less,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a statement

The issue of ‘Blue Suicide’ continues to become an epidemic despite numerous attempts to provide more resources for counseling and treatment. However, those who work in law enforcement tend to find it hard to ask for help. Often times, they do not want to seem weak for admitting that they are struggling with depression, trauma, addiction or other issues. Yet, what many do not understand is that sharing your pain is not weakness. It actually shows a great deal of strength to acknowledge that you cannot carry the weight of the world on your shoulders and that you need help.

Multiple departments and organizations continue to work tirelessly to educate law enforcement personnel on how to reach out for help as well as how to prevent officer suicides. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the largest professional organization for police leaders in the world, is also tackling the issue of suicide prevention. According to their website, the IACP will be leading the national conversation around the issues of suicide and mental health issues impacting law enforcement personnel. They will be doing this through the National Consortium of Preventing Law Enforcement Suicide, which will spearhead the development of more suicide awareness and prevention tools. This will entail making policy updates, recommendations and other points of interest for the mental health of officers.

Of course, all of the resources in the world will not prevent a suicide if the person does not wish to ask for help. That is why it is so important that people be aware of the signs of someone who may be contemplating suicide. This can often be seen as a sudden change in their behavior or job performance, which may come on the heels of a traumatic loss or experience. While there is no one cause of suicide, depression is often the most common reason. That is why it is so important that people who are dealing with clinical depression get the help that they need.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention breaks down the warning signs of suicide into three categories; talk, behavior and mood. A person contemplating suicide will talk about killing themselves due to feeling hopeless or trapped and believing that they are a burden to others. Increased alcohol or drug use, researching ways to end their lives, suddenly giving away possessions and isolating themselves are some key behavioral changes that indicate a risk of suicide. As mentioned earlier, depression is often the most common reason behind suicide, but other changes in mood can be key indicators as well. This includes anxiety, loss of interest and shifting from agitation and anger to relief and improvement.

However, just knowing the potential warning signals will not help if you do not take action. Sometimes, it may be hard to accept that a friend, family member or colleague may be contemplating suicide even if you recognize the potential red flags. Often times, we may feel that we are intruding on that person and may not want to ask what may be some uncomfortable questions. Or we may just believe that whatever they are going through is temporary and none of our business. Yet, that kind of thinking does nothing to help the person in question. They may be waiting for someone to care enough to reach out and see how they are doing.  By choosing not to offer support we may find ourselves dealing with that person’s private pain in a very real way if they take their own life.

On a daily basis, officers find themselves dealing with high-stress situations in which their lives can end at a moment’s notice. While many officers are able to successfully navigate those stresses there are some who find themselves struggling to cope. That does not make them weak or inferior, and they should not be treated as if they are. So, if you see anyone exhibiting the warning signals that may indicate that they are trouble don’t be afraid to step in and try to help. Now, that doesn’t mean you should attempt to become their therapist. Sometimes, just listening to their concerns without judgement, or directing them to a professional resource, can make all of the difference in the world.

If you are currently in crisis, or you know someone who is, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For those who are more comfortable using text you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting START to 741741. Remember, there is no shame in asking for help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help for either yourself or for a fellow brother and sister in blue. You can help save a life, be it your own or someone else’s.