Have you ever thought about how suicide affects others? If so have you considered how it affects our Police Officers who attend every single suicide incident?
In my 13 year career as a Queensland Police Officer, I would have attended literally dozens of suicides. When I first joined the Service as young 22 year old Constable I commonly found myself having to assist the undertaker when attending a suicide incident.
Yes, I mean physically assisting the undertaker in removing the person from their final resting place. This involved lifting, holding or carrying the person and placing them into a body-bag before carrying them to the undertakers’s vehicle.
Not forgetting that a cursory body search has to be completed at the scene and again at the morgue to ensure all valuables and other items can be located and returned to loved ones. One thing I have also had people ask me over the years is, did I talk to them when I was at the morgue or doing these type of jobs?
For me personally the answer is yes. I always talked to the people who had passed when having to search them or remove their clothes. I talked to them about what I was doing and why, I guess it just seemed the right thing to do, and my way of respecting them as another human being.
On a number of occasions I found myself asking them out aloud, why? Why had they done what they had done, particularly after seeing the affects of them passing had on their loved ones. I never got an answer back but it didn’t stop me asking.
But this isn’t the only side to Police Officer’s being involved in suicides. No, There is another side to being involved in a suicide as a Police Officer which is just as hard. I am talking about the times when you have to attend and give a formal death message.
It is something you never get used to and something that never leaves you. I have never forgotten the feeling of taking those fateful steps up to someone’s front door to give a death message. Always stopping to take one final breath and compose myself before making that knock on their front door that will change their life forever.
Nothing can prepare you for how they will react. You have no idea how close they are as a family, when they last saw them or how they are going to take the horrific news you are about to tell them. Selfishly, I often found myself hoping that another family member or friend had rang them already and given them the news before they had to hear it from me. Hoping that this would some how soften the blow and make my job just that but easier.
On occasions this did occur, but not very often.
As a society we are unfortunately touched by suicide way to much. ¹In Australia suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged between 15 and 44, with around 3000 people dying from suicide every year. That’s an average of 8 people every day.
One fact that I feel is sometimes missed, is that everyone of those 3000 recorded suicides is attended by at least one Police Officer. Most times it would be between 3 to 5 Police Officers attending or involved in a suicide incident.
When you take into account the initial attending crew, the specialist Detectives who need to check to see if it was a suicide and not a homicide, and the officer taking the photographs, the numbers quickly add up. This number can also go up further when you take into account if another crew is required to attend and give the associated death message to their next-of-kin.
Remembering what I have just stated above, and my already quoted statistics stating that there are approximately 3000 people taking their lives in Australia each year. This now opens up another alarming statistic. How many of our Police are affected by attending every single one of these 3000 suicide incidents every year?
The figures are staggering!
Bearing in mind I have only touched on Police Officers in this article. I haven’t even factored in the involvement and the affects on our other emergency service workers such as the Fire Fighters, Ambulance and Hospital staff.
The affects of suicide on our community are wide and reaching. The affects on the multiple Police Officers who attend everyone of these incidents can be devastating.
Luckily times are changing and with the recent commencement of a non-profit charity in Australia called Blue HOPE. Blue HOPE assists current and former Police Officers along with their families in getting access to the assistance they need. It is run by people who know what it feels like, as most of them are current or former Police Officers.
We do have some great existing charities in Australia at present like Beyond Blue and Black Dog Institute, which assist our wider community in dealing with mental health issues including suicide. But it is also great to see the emergence of an industry specific charity such as Blue HOPE to assist our Police Officers who attend such life changing incidents like suicides on a daily basis.
So next time you hear someone mention the current statistics in relation to people taking their own lives, please feel for their loved ones. But also think of the 3 to 5 Police Officers that attend every suicide incident, and the affect it also has on their lives and that of their families.
If you would like to donate to Blue HOPE please click on any of the blue coloured hyperlinked sections of this article. Or click on the following link which will take you straight to the Blue HOPE – Donations page.
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Stuart Rawlins | Healthy Mind Healthy Future
Strategies to improve your Mental Health
¹ Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2016). Causes of Death, Australia 2015, preliminary data., Cat. no. (3303.0). Canberra: ABS.