The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. The highest rate is among middle-aged white men. Suicide numbers among first responders are much worse. The Ruderman White Paper on Mental Health and Suicide of First Responder states that firefighters and law enforcement officers are more likely to die by suicide than from a line-of-duty death.
In 2017, there were 103 reported firefighter suicides and 93 line-of-duty deaths. The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance estimates approximately 40% of firefighter suicides are reported. If this estimate is correct, the actual number of suicides would be 257, more than twice the number of line-of-duty deaths.
Job stress is likely the largest contributing factor. Suicide is the result of mental illness, like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Police and firefighters experience near constant exposure to death and destruction. PTSD and depression rates among firefighters and police officers are nearly five times higher than the civilian population. Even when suicide doesn’t happen, untreated mental illness can lead to poor physical health and impaired decision-making.
The stigma of mental illness within fire and police organizational culture can stop people from seeking help. Many national organizations have developed hotlines and programs to help people dealing with stress and depression. Your department can use these programs to build an internal support system for your members.
For immediate assistance, contact:
- Fire/EMS Helpline: 1-888-731-FIRE (3473).
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- CopLine: 1-800-267-5463, available for the United States and Canada.
Partner with national efforts to reduce the stigma and help your department:
- Center for Firefighter Behavioral Health.
- Everyone Goes Home National Fallen Firefighter Foundation.
- First Responder Lifeline American Addiction Centers.
- Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention and Awareness International Association of Chiefs of Police.
- Research topic: suicide in the fire service U.S. Fire Administration/National Emergency Training Center Library.
- Share the Load National Volunteer Fire Council.
- Tools for Firefighter Suicide Prevention Center for Firefighter Behavioral Health.