Asking for help isn't easy for many people – but it can be especially difficult for first responders.
- How to recognize signs of suicidal ideation in anyone,
- How to identify potential suicide behavior,
- How to intervene when you believe someone is thinking about suicide.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Your webinar is specifically addressing the “basics” of suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. Can you give us a taste of what these three phases look like for an organization or manager?
Amy Morgan: We are all part of different communities – whether it’s our workplace, our neighborhood, our town, etc. An organization and its leaders have an ability to guide individuals and provide resources for them. This could be training for their jobs, but could also be resources that benefit their overall well-being.
Suicide prevention is all about having an awareness of messages others are trying to send to us, specifically when they are reaching out for help or acting in ways that may signal that they need help. Intervention is a lot about being a good listener, and showing a non-judgmental level of caring and support to someone who is going through a difficult phase in life. For a manager, knowing how to listen and watch for signs of distress in team members could make a real difference in someone’s success, or even their life.
Postvention is specifically for those who have suffered the loss of someone to suicide and used as its own preventive measure to keep those left behind from their own distress.
"We would think they would be the group
that would be most willing to step forward
and get all the mental health help they were offered,
but this group is known for their heroism …
admitting that they are struggling
feels very much like going against
that heroic, strong persona."
JCH: Given everything that the average first responder experiences, witnesses, and lives through in the profession, mental health is certainly a concern. How common is suicide and depression among first responders? What can they do to take care of themselves?
Amy: First responders do see a lot of really difficult situations, and they experience trauma on a regular basis. We would think they would be the group that would be most willing to step forward and get all the mental health help they were offered, but this group is known for their heroism, and their ability to walk into difficult situations that most people couldn’t even imagine. Admitting they are having a negative reaction to their job, or admitting that they are struggling feels very much like going against that heroic, strong persona.
Suicide and depression certainly do affect first responders, but unfortunately, there are not solid statistics available for this group. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) include police officers and firefighters in the same statistical group as crossing guards and playground monitors; EMT and paramedics are included in the same group as pharmacy technicians and physicians.
However, we do know that trauma can lead to depression and suicide, and first responders are exposed regularly to traumatic incidents. Any mental health assistance these individuals can participate in will only help them and make them stronger on the job.
JCH: Given your background and experience, what advice might you have for a manager or leader who may be concerned for his or her team? How can they build a culture in their organization where it’s ok to ask for help or to acknowledge when someone’s struggling?
Amy: This is a great question, because how a manager or leader handles mental health needs can determine the well-being, health and resilience of every single team member individually, but also of the team as a unit.
If a leader encourages personnel to debrief, talk about reactions they may have be having after an incident, and seek ongoing counseling or other support, that leader will be encouraging a much stronger team of resilient individuals.
On the flip side, if a leader acts like someone wanting help is weak or unable to handle their job because they are reacting to a difficult experience, he/she will just be weakening the potential of the individuals and the team.
JCH: A large number of our readers and subscribers are in law enforcement, but we have representation from all parts of the justice arena. Can you share some specifics of what different types of justice professionals or first responders will gain by attending your webinar?
Amy: The great thing about the information in this webinar is that it can be used immediately, by anyone. It’s not necessary to be a mental health expert, a counselor, or even someone who regularly manages emergency situations.
The process for watching & managing signs of someone who may be thinking about suicide are really an intense exercise in open, non-judgmental listening, patience, and compassion. I’m pretty sure most of us can admit that we could benefit from a lesson on being a better listener, and this webinar talks through how to listen, how it’s beneficial, and how it can make the difference between someone being open to your help or isolating themselves further into their thoughts.
To watch Basic Suicide Prevention, Intervention & Postvention, click here.
If you or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed, know you are not alone, there are many resources to help. Please consider:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255)
or First Alliance.org to find assistance near you.