More officers died by suicide in 2018 than in line of duty, study says

Updated: Jun. 5, 2019 at 6:46 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - More officers died by suicide than in the line of duty in the United States for the third straight year in 2018, according to a study by the nonprofit Blue H.E.L.P, run by active and retired officers.

In the Cape Fear region, this trend does not hold true. Most local agencies reported no suicides in the past several years, and all offer some sort of counseling.

The Bladen County Sheriff’s Office requires counseling for any deputy involved in an officer involved shooting where a deputy on scene fires his or her weapon.

Deputies and families at the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office can also go to counseling for free, and have access to a chaplain 24/7. Chief Deputy Larry Guyton said they all look out for each other and debrief after major incidents. He said there’s a stigma in law enforcement around getting help, which is one of the reasons they made counseling mandatory after officer involved shootings.

“Sadly, officers sometimes fear a stigma that they’re not tough to handle what they see and what they have to deal with and they won’t voluntarily come forward," Chief Deputy Guyton said. "We found that to be true, so if we mandate it, then they can use that as ‘well, I have to go’ kind of thing instead of 'I need to go.”

“They cover it up and bury it. If it comes up, you push it back down and sort of bury it,” Chief Deputy Guyton continued.

Guyton knows how to bury what he has seen; In 2008, he was on scene during an officer involved shooting. One of the other deputies on scene fired their weapon, so they all had to go to counseling.

“It was helpful. It was nice to have someone who was not part of law enforcement that you could talk to and explain it to," Chief Deputy Guyton said. “I could get it into a little bit different perspective. I could look at it not from so much my point of view, as take a step back and look at it overall and see the overall aspects of it. I could talk about how it affected my family. Families go through it too."

The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office offers chaplains and a peer support group for its deputies. The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office provides an employee assistance program and chaplains, giving deputies the option of counseling. Pender County also has an employee assistance program (EAP) and debriefs after critical incidents.

In Columbus County, there are three chaplains on staff, the sheriff’s office offers training on coping with critical incident stress situations and after major incidents, they debrief as an office. The Wilmington Police Department has an EAP, chaplain services and debriefs after major incidents.

The FMRT Group offers counseling to officers, hoping they help themselves before they help others.

“Officers see trauma that most of us can’t relate to,” Haley Gingles, director of marketing and communications for the FMRT Group, said. “It’s in all of our best interests to have the healthiest officers possible, so we are going to continue to bring down that wall and eliminate that stigma .... It’s [asking for help] definitely not a weakness. It’s actually a strength in character to notice that there’s a problem and reach out for the services that you need."

The FMRT Group specializes in public safety psychology. Gingles said they’re seeing more agencies put policies in place that mandate counseling 48 hours after a critical incident.

Chief Deputy Guyton wants his fellow officers to know tough guys and girls can get help too.

“If you have a broken bone, you get it fixed. If you have a cold or an infection, you get medicine for it, but if you have something troubling mentally, then you can get help for that also and you need to," Chief Deputy Guyton said.

If you or someone you know needs help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

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