Police officers and firefighters are more likely to commit suicide than die in the line of duty, according to a study by the Ruderman Family Foundation.
Reviewing statistics from 2017, the study discovered that 140 police officers and 103 firefighters committed suicide in that year alone, compared to 129 police officers and 93 firefighters who died in the line of duty the same year. The study cites the unique, dangerous, and ever-present stressors police officers and firefighters face as a major contributing factor to their inclination towards suicide.
The overwhelming number of distressing professional events that police officers and firefighters encounter has been recorded by past studies. One 2015 survey cited by the Ruderman report concludes that police officers face, on average, 188 “critical events” in the course of their service.
As for dangerous events firefighters encounter, the National Fire Protection Association recorded 1,342,000 reported fires in the United States in 2016 alone, which resulted to 3,390 civilian deaths.
The incidence of PTSD and depression among police officers and firefighters is five times higher than the general population, which contributes to the higher number of suicides among them. In every 100,000 police officers 17 commit suicide, while in every 100,000 firefighters 18 do the same. This is strikingly higher than the rate of suicide among the civilian population, at 13 per 100,000.
The study also takes note of underreporting of suicide cases among firefighters. According to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, only 40 percent of firefighter suicides are declared, meaning the actual number of firefighter suicides in 2017 could be around 257, more than twice the number of firefighters who died on the job.
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Organizations have been calling attention to the declining mental health of police officers and firefighters for years. In 2016, Badge of Life, a suicide prevention organization for cops, revealed that one officer commits suicide every 81 hours, and that for every suicide, almost 1,000 police officers continue to perform their duties while suffering from PTSD.
According to Police Suicide Study, the 140 recorded police suicides in 2017 break what had been a declining trend in suicide among police officers. “Sadly, this figure of 140 reverses a hoped-for trend in the past two years, which suggested police suicides might be going down for the first time.”
Suicide data for firefighters is limited, but according to Fire Engineering, firefighter suicide is on the rise, with numbers catching up with police officer suicides. In a survey of more than 1,000 firefighters by Florida State University, it was discovered that half of them have contemplated suicide during the course of their career, while 15 percent admit they have attempted suicide.
Firefighting was ranked as the second most stressful job in 2017 by Forbes, while being in law enforcement came in fourth.
The Ruderman study points out that an obstacle that prevents cops and firefighters from accessing mental health services is the “stigma surrounding mental health within professions that prioritize bravery and toughness.” Only 3 to 5 percent of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States have programs for suicide prevention, according to the study.
If you feel that you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (8255). They are free and available 24/7.