Tag Archives: PTSD

Suicide Awareness: 40 seconds of action

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Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, and in the United States this is National Suicide Awareness Month.

Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one’s own death. Mental disorders and substance abuse are often major risk factors, especially in combination with one another.

While some suicide attempts are impulsive, a response to major stressors in life, other attempts are well-planned, frequently as a result of depression, with sometimes dramatic staging involved.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated the annual suicide rate as 10.6 per 100,000 people worldwide as of 2016 numbers. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with approximately 123 Americans committing suicide daily.

Look at your watch, your device, your nearest clock. In the next 12 minutes, someone in the USA will commit suicide. That is the average. It takes the lives of nearly 45,000 Americans each year.

This year, the WHO has launched a “40 seconds of action” campaign in order to both raise awareness of the scale of suicide across the globe and to highlight the role each of us can play in order to help prevent it.

That 40 seconds figure was arrived at due to the fact that someone around the world loses their life to suicide an average of every 40 seconds.

While suicidal thoughts affect individuals of every age, race and sex, it is the second-highest cause of death in the world for young people aged 15-24. The CDC estimates that 20-25% of Americans age 18+ are affected by depression in any given year.

Depression and suicide also do not care about your or your family’s celebrity status. A decade after her 18-year-old son, Michael Blosil, committed suicide by jumping from the balcony of his eighth-floor Los Angeles apartment, Marie Osmond still struggles with the loss.

You know, I don’t think you’re ever through it,Osmond said during a recent interview on CBS Sunday Morning.

I think God gives you respites. And then all of the sudden it will hit you like the day it did. The ripple effect is so huge, what you leave behind.

We often think of police officers as some of the strongest among us. On an almost daily basis, officers experience the worst that can happen to people. Victims of crime and accidents, even direct threats or attacks on themselves. You need to be strong to handle that day-in, day-out mental, emotional and physical grind.

But as I learned both in nearly thirty years of my own law enforcement experience and specifically in teaching a course on law enforcement suicide for a couple of years as a Sergeant with the Philadelphia Police Department’s Training Bureau, police officers are far from immune.

Between 2003-2013, there were 17 Philadelphia officers who committed suicide. The numbers fluctuate each year, but continue to show that, on average, one or two Philly cops kill themselves each year. PTSD is a primary factor in the vast majority, perhaps in all, of these losses.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has estimated that twice as many law enforcement officers take their own lives each year as die in duty-related assaults or traffic accidents. For each successful suicide by a police officer, there are up to 25 attempts, according to an IACP report on the topic.

Here are some of the suggestions the WHO makes for all of us to consider as part of their “40 seconds” program:

Are you struggling yourself with thoughts of suicide? Take just 40 seconds to “kickstart a conversation” with someone you love and/or trust. Tell them about how you are feeling and what you are considering.

If you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, take 40 seconds to start a conversation with them. Don’t text. Don’t send an IM or slide into their DM’s. Don’t drop them an email.

Call them. Listen to their voice. Let them hear your voice, the genuine love, compassion, and concern you have for them. In the first 40 seconds of the phone call, directly let them know you were thinking of them, and ask them how they are doing. Then…listen.

The WHO also recommends that those working in media take the time to highlight the “every 40 seconds” statistic, and point those who may be struggling to resources that can help. I will include many good ones at the end of this piece.

If you work in the arts, or have a platform for communicating (such as me with this website), take the time to communicate the “40 seconds” statistics and message.

You can at least take 40 seconds to put together an email directed at your local, state and national political leaders, imploring them to prioritize mental health and suicide awareness and prevention resources.

If you know someone, or are someone, who has made a prior suicide attempt, you should be aware that it is a major risk factor for a future suicide. Be sure to stay in touch with loved ones, and to reach out. Seek help. Be help.

All of us can at least do our small part to improve awareness of the significance of suicide as a legitimate health problem, both here in America and around the world. For instance, share a “meme” or other graphic found on the internet in your social media feed today.

We can all improve our own knowledge on the topic, help reduce the stigma associated with suicide attempts, and perhaps most importantly to let people who are struggling know that they are not alone.

The WHO considers that suicides are preventable. It just takes people who care. Care enough about yourself to reach out. Care enough about struggling loved ones to get and stay involved in their lives.

With as little as 40 seconds of action from all of us, we can begin to lower those averages. We can begin to make a real difference. We can begin to help save lives, perhaps our own, perhaps those of a loved one. Just 40 seconds.



A new teaching year is beginning for myself and my fellow members of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Advanced Training Unit, with a handful of new courses to be presented and refreshers coming on a few more.

Each year, the Municipal Police Officer’s Education & Training Commission (MPOETC) develops four courses as mandated classroom training for all of Pennsylvania’s law enforcement officers.

In Philly, it is the ATU’s job to present those courses to the vast majority of the city’s 6,000+ officers, detectives and supervisors. The ATU also provides fee-based training to ‘outside’ jurisdictions such as the police from SEPTA, the university police at Temple and Penn, and a few other agencies and municipalities.

Each MPOETC course is presented as a half-day of training, making for two full state-mandated days in the classroom for each officer. Every single year, the 15 or so members of the ATU staff will provide instruction to roughly 25,000 attendees in a couple of thousand sessions.

However, for 2014, that number will expand, because every two years all officers are also required to receive recertification training in CPR and First Aid. The CPR training is a full day. The First Aid training is a half day, and the PPD always takes advantage of the other half day to present some type of additional training.

So in the 2014 teaching year, the ATU will be presenting four classroom days to each officer in the two days of MPOETC-mandated training, a day for CPR, and another day for the combined First Aid/departmental training. Factoring in only Philly cops, the ATU staff will provide classes to at least 42,000 attendees during the year.

The four MPOETC offerings this year are “Legal Updates“, “Invisible Wounds“, “Crimes Against the Elderly“, and “Social Media“, while the departmental bonus training to accompany First Aid will be a “Policy Updates” course.

A new version of “Legal Updates” is presented each and every year to all officers. The course highlights any major changes to existing laws, presents important new laws passed during the last year, and goes over the particular facts involved in specific case law from around the Commonwealth and the nation in the last year.

Crimes Against the Elderly” is a course highlighting the problems being presented by transient criminal groups who run various scams and other crimes, frequently targeting more vulnerable elderly members of the community with their organized crime schemes. These include frauds involving home improvement, roofing, driveway resurfacing, and more.

Invisible Wounds” is a course designed around the elements of ‘PTSD’, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. As many of our officers learned during a recently-presented course on “Suicide Prevention“, PTSD is considered the primary cause of that particularly devastating issue. Officers should emerge with a better idea of not only the dangers to those in our profession, but also will learn some strategies to help them avoid, mitigate, and manage it’s effects.

Social Media” is a course that will introduce the officers to various forms of social media and their importance in the world at large, while also discussing how it can be used as an investigative tool. There is discussion of the benefits, as well as the perils, of their individual on-duty use as sworn and salaried city employees, as well as their off-duty use of media and it’s relation to their employment responsibilities and expectations. There is also a presentation on the necessary growth of departmental/agency uses of social media.

The PPD has determined that a “Policy Updates” course would be beneficial, and this will be presented on the same day that First Aid training is provided. This course will be a review of the key points in a couple of dozen important internal policies, mostly Directives, which the department has updated over the last couple of years.

All of this training presents a challenge to the management and staff at the Advanced Training Unit, with a full schedule that will keep them busy for much of the year. Captain Hugh Lynch, who has been the on-site Commanding Officer at the unit for the last couple of years is being promoted by the PPD, so it will be a new challenge under a new Commanding Officer as well.

Also notably, this marks the last scheduled year in the careers of a pair of the units key personnel: Lieutenant Jim Gould and Lieutenant John Bradley. Each of these men plays an important role, but each is wrapping up his career with the PPD. Both are scheduled to retire at the very beginning of 2015, at the latest.

The staff at the Advanced Training Unit is fully invested in the education of Philadelphia’s police officers. This year’s schedule may be a challenge on the minds, the feet, and the vocal chords of that staff, but we realize that the benefits to the individual officers, the department as a whole, and subsequently to the community are great.

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to begin reporting to Major League Baseball spring training camps in the next couple of weeks, it seems appropriate to borrow from our National Pastime for a relevant opening statement to our own teaching year: “Play ball!”