The Will To Live

When I decided to attend “Building Your Character-Session 2” during Writers’ Police Academy, I didn’t realize that the instructor, Mary VanHaut, would be discussing suicide. (I should have read the workshop description.) Nevertheless, I’m glad I attended, and I think I’ll be using some of the following information in my next book.

Here are some statistics regarding suicide

  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • 45,000 die each year.
  • 123 die each day.
  • Every 11 to 12 minutes someone dies to suicide.
  • 51% of these deaths are by fire arms.

Women attempt suicide, but often the attempt fails. Why? Because women are more apt to talk—verbalize their problems and intentions. Men don’t talk about what’s bothering them.

The average age of male suicides is 45 – 54.  70% are white males.

There isn’t any good data on how many police officers die by suicide. There is data on how many die in the line of duty, but not on those who die by suicide.

What elevates the risk for a police officer to commit suicide?

Officers are trained to survive. Most have families or loved ones they want to go home to. Nevertheless, they are constantly exposed to stressful situations, and they don’t receive enough professional help to protect them from demise at their own hands.There’s the stigma of seeking help, plus the personality of police officers. Add the requirements of the job, and it all leads to an elevated risk.

Intrinsic Causes

  • Police officers tend to be caregivers; they have a helper mindset. That’s why they choose the profession. When situations don’t go well, they take it personally.
  • Some are control freaks, and the job itself often creates black and white thinking (i.e., there’s no middle ground).
  • Some see themselves as superheroes.
  • Some are stress junkies.

Extrinsic Causes

  • Schedules (Too many hours on the job.)
  • Fatigue (Either because of the hours they have to work or because they’ve been drinking coffee and energy drinks on the job, and they can’t sleep. Energy drinks/melatonin cycle.)
  • Police administration (possibly a lack of support)
  • The criminal justice system (seeing criminals go free on technicalities)
  • Moral malaise (Seeing corruption within the department or seeing the dark side of humanity.)
  • Disdain (Being spit on, maligned by the media and people they’re trying to help, etc.)
  • Parasympathetic relationships (Developing a mindset opposed to their job.)

Many officers suffer PTS (posttraumatic stress) and CCS (cumulative career stress.)

For more about police suicide and what’s being done to prevent it, check out Chris Prochut’s websites

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12 Responses to The Will To Live

  1. Suicide among police: That’s a pretty grim picture, Maris. This is good information, and will help writers like me make our police characters more rounded and human.

  2. Mary R says:

    Very interesting. Wonder if there ever could be a genetic component.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Seems like there could be a genetic component, Mary. If they could discover what it is, that might help save lives, but it might also be used as a barrier to gaining employment. No easy answers.

  3. Diane Burton says:

    Those statistics are sad. I’m surprised (though I shouldn’t be) about police officers and suicide. We often hear “suicide by cop” where a person puts himself in the line of fire so the cop will kill him. It’s easy to understand PTSD and CCS in cops. I wonder about teachers??? Great post, Maris.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Diane, it would be interesting to see statistics on teachers committing suicide. I know teaching can be very depressing, so I’m sure many teachers do suffer from PTSD.

  4. Maris,

    Being a policeman is a very difficult job. I can see where it might lead to severe depression.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Law enforcement officers so often see the dark side of humanity and lately seem to receive no thanks, so you’re right Jacqueline, it is easy to see why they might succumb to depression.

  5. Diana Stout says:

    Lots of veterans commit suicide, too. My nephew served overseas, with his best friend being shot next to him in his first week there. He never recovered from his experiences over there, committing suicide early this year. Only in his mid-30s. Too young. Great post.

  6. From whose research were the statistics found? When was this statistical information published? I’m not challenging you. I need solid and up-to-date information like this for additions to my book.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I’m afraid I can’t answer your question, Paula. I’m not sure she gave us a year. Also, I just looked her up on Google and see she spells her last name with an e (Van Haute). There are several sites for her. You might try Googling Mary Van Haute to see if one of the sites might lead you to an answer for your question. It appears most of her research is in regard to law enforcement suicides.