Most of the posts on this page are accounts of my personal struggles with mental health issues. Today though, I want to take a moment to tell the story of another group of people. Police.
According to the nonprofit Blue H.E.L.P, 165 police officers took their own lives in 2018, more than all line-of-duty deaths combined. So far in 2019, 72 have died by suicide. In Chicago, where I work, 6 officers had committed suicide within the previous 8 months as of late March.
I’ve never worn a badge. I doubt I’d be very well cut out for that life. But I am very fortunate to know several law enforcement officers. Police have gotten a bad rap in recent years. Yes, there have been some bad actors who unfortunately tarnish their badges with excessive force or racist acts, but most police are incredible people who do a difficult job with grace and compassion, and who simply want to go home to their families at the end of their shift.
They see the worst of humanity. They protect us from it. And often they carry its weight. According to the website policeone.com, less than 10 percent of departments have mental health help programs, despite the fact that police and fire personnel are 5 times more likely than average individuals to suffer from PTSD.
The death of any person is a tragedy, and this is absolutely true of the brave men and women who form the thin blue line between us and the darkness humanity as a whole can offer. And in this day and age, when so many call for police reform, I for one hope that any reform includes mental health assistance for those who bravely answer our calls for help. Yet for those 165 officers who fell last year after taking their own lives, such reform would sadly come too late. And if it comes, it will come too late for one other person as well. Liv Pontin.
Liv worked for the Northamptonshire Police Department in England and was an avid mental health advocate who worked with police forces to raise awareness about mental health and combat the stigma that prevents so many of these officers from seeking help. I didn’t know her, but became aware of her work through social media. She took her own life May 8, 2019. This after a stranger saved her from such a fate in 2017.
Back in 2017, she was about to throw herself in front of a moving train when the train’s driver saw her and blew his horn several times, startling her out of her suicide attempt. She attempted to flee the station, but the driver jumped off the train and caught up to her to make sure she was okay.
So in an age where it is so popular to be critical of those in law enforcement, consider instead saying thank you. Apart from being a decent thing to do, you might just save a life.