Study: First responders more likely to die by suicide than on duty

Firefighters battle a five-alarm blaze at a warehouse in St. Louis, Mo., after a wall collapsed on a fire truck on November 15. Thursday, a study reported that more firefighters and police officers died of suicide in 2017 than on the job. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

April 12 (UPI) — More firefighters and police officers died last year from suicides than they did incidents on the job, a new study showed Thursday.

The research was analyzed by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization for people with disabilities.

“In 2017, there were at least 103 firefighter suicides and 140 police officer suicides,” the report said. “In contrast, 93 firefighters and 129 police officers died in the line of duty.”

On-duty deaths include any that result from shootings, assaults or car accidents.

The foundation analyzed how mental health affected police officers and firefighters — many of whom have military experience, which researchers said piles onto their exposure to trauma.

“First responders are heroes who run towards danger every day in order to save the lives of others. They are also human beings, and their work exerts a toll on their mental health,” said foundation President Jay Ruderman. “It is our obligation to support them in every way possible — to make sure that they feel welcome and able to access life-saving mental health care.”

The study found that many police officers and firefighters have post-traumatic stress disorder and depression rates up to five times higher than that of civilians — which might cause a greater likelihood of suicide.

“Even when suicide does not occur, mental illness can lead to poor physical health and impaired decision-making,’ the report said.

Study co-author Miriam Heyman told USA Today suicide figures are severely under-reported, while on-duty deaths attract more media attention. Forty-six officers were shot dead on duty last year — about 67 percent less than the police suicide rate.

“We need to end the silence that surrounds the issue of first responder mental health,” the report adds. “We should celebrate the lives of those lost to suicide — at national monuments such as the National Law Enforcement Memorial, in the media, and within police and fire departments around the country.

“Also, departments should encourage or require first responders to access mental health services annually. This will enable our heroes to identify issues early, and get the help that they need. It will save lives.”


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