10 POINT PROACTIVE SUICIDE REDUCTION PROGRAM
by Vincent J. McNally, MPD, CEAP
Member of the Board of Professional Advisors,
The National Center for Emotional Wellness
Back in September 1999, I wrote an article entitled: The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Employee Assistance Program Response to Suicide and stated in the article, “As we enter the twenty-first century, the writer believes that there will be an increase in our CISD (Critical Incident Stress Debriefing) responses, as the FBI is now the target of subversive and criminal groups who used to give up at the sight of agents, but now are armed with armor-piercing bullets and bulletproof vests. Now that terrorism has arrived on United States soil through the World Trade Center bombing, more biological and chemical terroristic threats and actions are on the horizon, increasing the stress levels of working agents and EAP (Employee Assistance Program) proactive responses are necessary to address suicide.” Unfortunately, I am correct in that suicides in law enforcement are increasing because of the toxic workplace, and may even be reaching the suicide rate in the military.
Today, I just read an article about one of our fellow law enforcement partners who was involved in a violent shoot out with a heavily armed individual, and his partner next to him was shot and killed in front of him. The perpetrator was eventually killed and the surviving law enforcement official struggled for years with problems adjusting to this horrific event. The agent did contact the EAP but for some reason there was no follow-up. Eventually this individual began showing paranoid behavior inherent with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Thereafter, there was a Fit For Duty Exam and the individual was put on leave until the results came out, and when this happened, it put the individual over the edge and ultimately he took his own life. The question is not who we can blame for this tragic suicide but what we can do to prevent suicides.
My answer today is the same as it was 13 years ago and the formula to prevent suicides involves a proactive plan:
The Police Chief or Director of the Law Enforcement Agency must take a pivotal dynamic role in supporting a program to reduce suicides by sending a personal one page letter to each employee’s (support and Police officer) residence describing suicide causes and who to contact in their Employee Assistance Program.
The EAP counselors must be trained in First Responder Crisis (Hostage) Negotiation and incorporate a proactive response on every person that they receive information indicating behavior which are precursors to suicide.
Priority training to all shifts/squads/roll-call on PTSD, Depression and suicidal clues and who to call in a confidential manner to allow the EAP to assess the individual.
Target the high stress teams (undercover, child sexual exploitation, homicide, etc.) for short informative presentations on suicide prevention.
Block of training for new recruits and their spouses on depression, post-traumatic stress and suicide.
Develop a universal EAP Suicide Response Protocol approved by the legal unit on the services provided after a suicide by the department which would include a general informational conference by the highest ranking official with EAP presence, one-on-one EAP counseling offered, squad/shift psychological first aid format offered.
Develop a stress management program which is part of the annual conference for all employees.
Additional channels of communication to be developed between spouses and the EAP.
Utilize the POST CRITICAL INCIDENT SEMINAR for all employees involved in a critical incident. (To promote resolution and provide follow-up Support, the FBI initiated a post-critical incident seminar (PCIS). Employee assistance staff members invite employees who have experienced a critical incident to a 4-day seminar to discuss their reactions in a safe, protective, and confidential environment. Also open to the spouses of employees involved in traumatic events, the seminar usually includes between 15 and 25 individuals. Through sharing their experiences with others, participants receive peer support, which helps normalize their reactions. They also learn about trauma and coping strategies to facilitate healing and recovery. Additionally, peer support training permits participants to offer constructive interpersonal support in the future to fellow employees who may experience critical incidents.)
Develop or utilize a film, website or other internet electronic format to connect with the police department employees regarding suicide prevention.
The above proposed educational awareness initiatives will provide employees the information necessary to better cope with professional and personal problems and behavioral wrong turns that may lead to suicide.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.
One other point I would like to make is that after I was able to institute this program prior to my retirement, as outlined above, there were no suicides in the FBI for three years. Prior to this time, we were averaging two per year that were reported.
Vincent J. McNally
Trauma Reduction, Inc.