The year was 1950. I was a seven-year-old first grader when I experienced my first suicide. A 6-year-old female classmate’s father rented a motel room near our grade school and killed himself.
All the details I was aware of at my young age are contained in the sentence above. Oh additionally, I did know the how, but I did not know the why. This incident generated an impression which has lasted my entire life. I still hold a special place in my heart for my classmate. It is significant to me to realize that while her father’s suicide happened 67 years ago, the memory of suicide never fades away.
Many suicides followed the first and each additional suicide wove itself into the fabric of my existence. Life presented suicide to me in four forms, namely. 1. As an ordinary citizen, 2. As a college student, 3. As a suicide Tacoma Crisis Line volunteer, and 4. As a police officer.
I experienced the academic side of suicide while earning a college minor in psychology.
In the late 1960s, I served as a crisis telephone volunteer, for the Tacoma Crisis Clinic. People threatening suicide could call and ask a volunteer for help.
As a patrol officer, I investigated suicide threats, suicide attempts and completed suicides.
Each of these experiences is certainly burned into my mind. Suicide is tough on those left behind. It is natural for us to wonder, why? Is there something I could have said or done? If only the person would have asked for help.
This past April 25, 2017, another suicide impacted my life. It brings tears to my eyes. Lakewood Police Officer, Arron Grant, took his own life. He was only 40 years old. To date, he is the last suicide in my lifetime of suicide experiences; but I realize he will probably not be the last.
I may have met Arron, but I did not know him well. None-the-less his decision to commit suicide impacts on me as it does many in our community and most seriously on the officers and staff of our Lakewood Police Department. It does not take much imagination to understand how our police officers are experiencing incredible hurt and loss right now.
Based on my experience with suicide, I wish to share four observations.
- Having served 23 years as a police officer I know law enforcement is a high-stress career. Stress comes from all angles and sources. Police officers are constantly exposed to a mountain of stress which can be so crushing it manifests itself as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Officers frequently die in the early years of their retirement from medical problems such as heart attacks. Sometimes stress takes an officer’s life before retirement.
- Depression, which can lead to suicide, can visit anyone inside or outside law enforcement. Depression can be either Clinical Depression (chemical imbalance) or Situational Depression (life circumstances such as divorce, finances, job loss, death or …). When we detect stress and depression in ourselves or others, we should understand that suicide can follow. Not always, but sometimes. We need to be sensitive to this possibility and keep an eye on those around us. If we do that effectively, we will be more able to take constructive action when suicidal danger signs are recognized.
- When an individual becomes seriously stressed and/or depressed or suffers from PTSD, the world can appear bleak leaving the victim of depression with the feeling there is no reason to live. Suicide can follow.
- In 2016, Badge of Life statistics show 140 officers lost their lives in the line of duty from gunshots, vehicle crashes and other causes. In the same time frame, 126 officers lost their lives to suicide.
Officer Grant has been described as a caring individual, known for his generosity and kind heart. While it is thought Officer Grant was pressed with painful personal issues, he never let that influence his excellent performance as a police officer. People have told me Arron was a wonderful person.
It is too late for us to create a different outcome for Officer Grant. It is not too late for us to be sensitive to the fact that our men and women in blue are experiencing the stress of losing a fellow officer on top of the normal daily stress generated by serving as a police officer. None-the-less, Lakewood Police officers will put on their uniforms and return to work for each appointed shift as they continue to serve our community.
On November 29, 2009, as many are aware, four Lakewood Police Department were assassinated by a felon in a coffee shop. While we can benefit from the comforting knowledge our Lakewood Police Department is a strong department, having proven it has an iron will to persevere, it still hurts to lose another fine officer. If we garner the positive strength our community possesses, we can help shore up LPD officers with their will to survive this most recent tragedy.
Yes, the officers who make up our Lakewood Police Department, will survive. Officer Arron Grant would have wanted and expected this kind of performance from his fellow officers.
I have spoken to Chief Mike Zaro. He assures me our police department will survive and move forward just as it has in the past, but that is not saying it will be easy. Let’s be honest. It hurts.
If afforded the opportunity, be kind to our police and tell them how much you appreciate their volunteering for a job most citizens are unable and unwilling to perform.
Most people feel uncomfortable or are not willing to talk about suicide. Additionally, some people are fearful that bringing up the subject will push their friend into committing suicide. That is not likely.
If you detect someone is hurting or based on their life circumstances most likely are under significant stress, then please check in on them.
Ask how they are doing. Get the subject of suicide out in the open. If you become concerned someone you know might be in harm’s way, but do not feel capable of handling the threat, share your concern with a trusted individual such as another friend, a chaplain, relative, supervisor, mental health professional or make a call to a crisis helpline for guidance.
In closing, I wish to provide you with a link and phone numbers to connect you with valuable educational and suicide prevention resources.
LINK: STOP A SUICIDE TODAY. The site includes, but is not limited to the following: 1. Toll-Free 24 / 7 Suicide prevention helpline. 2. Suicide warning signs. 3. Tips on what to do and what to say. 4. Self-screening system. 5. Suicide education for victims and friends. 6. Help resource ideas. 7. Suicide Myths & Facts.
You are not alone. Help is available. Treatment works.
LOCAL PIERCE COUNTY HELPLINE
THE NATIONAL HELPLINE
Because suicide is a difficult and sensitive subject, I have chosen to pretest the validity and appropriateness of my writing by collaborating with Ms. Terri Card, President, and CEO of Greater Lakes Mental Healthcare. Ms. Card graciously agreed to review my material prior to publishing. We hope you find our work product respectful, educational, and helpful.