Police Depression: The Silent Killer
By Mark Bond, professor of criminal justice at American Military University
Depression in police work is a silent killer. Depression can be stealth, even for the most resilient officer, and can take a physical and mental toll on the mind and body if it goes unrecognized and untreated. Unfortunately, the silence within police culture discourages the acknowledgment of depression and mental illness. This silence cannot continue.
Every year, just as many officers die by their own hand as do officers killed in the line of duty. Yet, the silence continues.
[Related: Addressing Mental Wellness and Police Suicides: A Lifelong Commitment]
At the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. we honor the men and women who have been killed in the line of duty protecting their communities. We do not honor these officers for the manner in which they lost their lives serving, but rather how they lived their lives protecting their communities.
Yet, no officer who has taken his or her own life because of duty-related mental illness has his or her name engraved on the Wall of Heroes. These officers died because of mental health issues brought on by their honorable service to their communities as peace officers. They are the forgotten! Their names are only whispered within their departments because of how they died. Being ignored often contributes to why they got sick in the first place and yet, the silence continues.
[Related: Analyzing Law Enforcement Deaths: What’s Missing from These Statistics?]
It’s Time to Acknowledge All Fallen Officers
The United States military lives by a code that they leave no man behind, no matter the cost. Everyone comes home. It is time to bring all fallen police officers home, regardless of the manner in which they died.
Engrave their names on the wall among the other fallen police heroes and honor them by speaking their names and acknowledging that depression brought on by police-related work caused this illness that lead to their death.
It is not about how any of the heroes died in their service to community, it is about how they lived.
Common Signs of Police Officer Depression
Depression is a silent killer in law enforcement because it often slowly builds up, unnoticed, due to constant work-related fatigue and other stressors. In some cases, it is dismissed as just feeling down or under the weather.
Here is a list of common signs of depression:
- Withdrawing from other officers
- Feeling sad and hopeless for more than a few days
- Lack of energy, enthusiasm, and motivation
- Trouble concentrating
- Reckless drinking of alcohol
- Trouble making decisions
- Being restless, agitated, and irritable
- Weight gain or loss out of the norm
- Sleeping more than usual (sometimes all day)
- Trouble with memory (out of character)
- Feeling bad about yourself or feeling guilty (signs that last for more than a few days)
- Anger and rage over something trivial (out of character)
- Feeling that you can’t overcome difficulties in your life
- Trouble functioning in your personal life (department discipline issues, divorce, recent loss of immediately family member)
- Openly talks about suicide
- Taking unnecessary risks
If you notice an officer displaying any of these signs for more than a few days, intervene and take the time to check in with them. If you say nothing and ignore the red flags, the outcome could be tragic.
[Related: Silent Suffering: Warning Signs and Steps to Prevent Police Suicide]
The number one killer of police officers is suicide caused by depression. Yet, the silence from within the police profession acknowledging officer depression is deafening.
The time for dialog and courage to recognize all our law enforcement heroes for their service, regardless of the manner of their death, is upon us. Honor these fallen officers by petitioning to have all fallen officers’ names engraved on the memorial in D.C. Leave no brother or sister behind, no matter the cost. Everyone comes home!
About the Author: Mark Bond worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 29 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed in Educational Leadership with Summa Cum Laude Honors. As a lifelong learner, he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education with a concentration in distance education. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at American Military University & American Public Universityand is one of the faculty directors in the School of Public Service & Health. You can contact him at MBond(at)apus.edu.