Community Columns

Saving police lives in Modesto, Stanislaus County and beyond

By John Madigan

From 2012 to 2016, Stanislaus County lost nearly 300 friends, family members and neighbors to suicide. Suicide is a preventable tragedy that we must do more to stop. Far too many people continue to struggle in silence and are reluctant to get the help they need to treat and manage their mental health. Suicide prevention starts by empowering people to reach out for help and talking about it.

That’s just what we’re focused on at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. As the largest suicide prevention organization in the country, our goal is to bring hope to those affected by suicide. Suicide affects people of all ages, all races, all religions and all professions. But our law enforcement communities are uniquely affected by this problem.

Based on research, police are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. Additionally, people who are experiencing a mental health crisis are more likely to encounter police officers than get medical help or treatment. These realities mean our law enforcement officers and the communities they protect are on the front lines of suicide prevention.

At AFSP, we are working closely with law enforcement communities to help educate officers on helping one another to proactively seek help for mental health, just as they would physical health. We are also working with police officers to help bring a greater understanding of mental health and suicide prevention within the workplace. Last year, we worked with the Tennessee State Police to ensure every highway patrol officer was trained in suicide prevention. We’ve also worked with law enforcement departments of all sizes — from North Dakota to Boston — to help stop suicide within their ranks.

This kind of training should be available to every single law enforcement officer in the country, including across the Central Valley. It literally saves lives.

Part of AFSP’s mission includes promoting smart policies that help reduce suicide rates, which is why we were pleased to see Rep. Josh Harder introduce the Supporting the Health and Safety of Law Enforcement Act (H.R. 2696). Harder’s bill will make sure that police are trained by mental health professionals right in their own communities to prevent suicide. This proposed legislation would be a huge step toward stopping this problem among officers as well as members of the public who may encounter police during a mental health emergency.

This bill is one of our legislative priorities this year, and we’re proud to support Harder’s efforts in this area. AFSP is dedicated to ensuring our law enforcement officers have the resources they need to properly address this problem.

If you or anyone you know are in need, please visit our website at afsp.org or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). We also offer helpful resources to family members and friends of those who are concerned that a loved one is at risk or was recently lost. The first step in stopping this problem is talking about it. Talk saves lives.

John Madigan is senior vice president of public policy at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

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