Police and Educator Suicides

Sep 27, 2019 by

September  is National Suicide Prevention Month. The month is almost over but awareness of the tragic toll must stay with us.

Eleven active-duty or retired New York City police officers have committed suicide so far this year.  Because of its news value, this alarming statistic has gotten much deserved publicity.  There are factors of significance unique to law enforcement, but the epidemic is no less tragic when it befalls educators or anyone else.

These tragedies reflect a desperation too intense and hopeless to be grasped, no matter how much empathy one has. The depths of human suffering can be bottomless, regardless of one’s profession or circumstances. 

Nothing is more dismaying than the capacity of people to abandon their instinct of self-preservation.  

It is  terrifying to know that we are all vulnerable if are driven beyond our personal threshold of endurance.

The self-protective instinct may be tested and betray even what appeared to be the least prone among us. 

 A split second delay of action, allowing for a second thought or bio-chemical change in the body that could translate into restraint, could avert annihilation and sometimes does.  People who are revived after self-inflicted near death experiences often report that. 

They express deep regret and feel a new “lease on life”. Some never get to express it, as they had a “change of heart” an instant after taking the irreversible step of self-annihilation.

But there can be no regrets when there is no more life. 

And thus these police officers are forever lost.

In the aftermath of these losses,  the Police Department has doubled down on advancing the mental health services available to its officers. For several reasons, these promotions are likely to be of little use, although they should still be retained and expanded.

Severe mental disorders are rarely fundamentally ameliorated by mental health professionals. Very rarely are they materially and lastingly reversed. 

The legal system generally prohibits the kind of interventions that are sometimes needed, such as involuntary hospitalization. When the patient are deemed competent adults, which they usually are despite evidence to the contrary, and especially when they are resistant to treatment, they cannot be coerced.

As the law would have it, it’s better that they die by their own hand than that their right to resist intervention to save them be violated.

If they are police officers, they have special cause to doubt official assurances that their illness will not be used against them after they recover and attempt to return to work.. Not as punishment but as prudent precaution, because police officers must carry a weapon for normal duties.

Modern psychiatrists are lawfully-sanctioned, government-credentialed drug pushers.

Practically every patient who sees a psychiatrist on a regular basis is prescribed at least one mind-altering drug.  Usually there are multiple medicines with largely unpredictable side-effects and interactions.  Many of them can actually trigger psychotic impulses, according to their own disclaimers.

That fact obviously would disqualify patients who are police officers from performing their routine tasks, which require clear and fast mental judgement and physical reaction.

In such situations, the right of confidentiality of  a patient’s medical records may be superseded by public safety considerations and would be brought to the attention of supervisors, whose overriding concern would be safeguarding the City from litigation over circumstances that could be argued could be anticipated.

Imagine an accident resulting from pursuit in a police vehicle driven by an officer on Haldol!

Police officers are stripped of their firearm for a variety of reasons, including allegations of domestic abuse, failure to qualify on the firing range, etc.  If there is evidence of emotional instability, it is standard procedure to disarm and reassign the officer. 

Nobody can argue against this prudence, even if it comes at a cost of fairness in individual cases.

Mental instability can be very loosely and subjectively defined, politically-charged, and lend itself to capricious classification. Officers on routine duty must be armed, but that would not only be inadvisable, but madness if the officer is on any form of chemical therapy.

Police officers on psychotropic drugs are likely to be stripped of their weapon, which would be a clear signal to colleagues who might suspect adverse administrative action. as the true reason.This may compromise their reputation and promotional opportunities despite guarantees that it won’t.  

So all the counseling for distressed police officers won’t go far enough., despite laudable intentions.

Does the PBA offer mental health services to its members, as does the teachers union?  If not, it should and the City should foot the cost. It should come out of the Police Department budget, but they should have no control over. 

And there may need to be new legal impediments to their accessing private information.

Most police suicides probably are caused by financial or relationship problems, as in the case with the civilian population. It is not precipitated by the indignities, shameful as they are, to which they have been sometimes subjected lately.

The ratio of suicidal civilians  to the whole civilian population probably is similar to that of law-enforcement officers. Our lives are all of equal value, regardless of our job. 

The recent pattern of police deaths is no less alarming for that.

The pressures of one’s employment can be crushing, though often it is not so widely recognized. Educators are particularly prone to extreme stress.

Around ten years ago, hundreds of teachers, many of whom were merely whistle-blowers or veteran teachers with an independent streak, were dispatched to what the tabloids called “rubber rooms.”  Many of them were mentally scarred, even if eventually exonerated.

Unlike the case of police officers, there was empathy from the media. Instead they were called “lemons.”

 I suspect there were suicides attributable to similar pressures that drove police officers over the edge.

The sanctity of life is universal and knows no categories or job descriptions.

Police officers are a vital part of our shared humanity and when driven by unspeakable anguish to self-slaughter, every single instance diminishes us all.

Ron Isaac

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