Imagine working one of the most dangerous jobs in the country and realizing that the person most likely to take your life is… YOU.
First responder suicides are an ugly secret that America finally seems ready to talk about. And it’s a story that I’m uncomfortably comfortable telling. You see, I was a full-time law enforcement officer and once upon a time, I too considered eating my gun.
Luckily, fate took me in a more constructive direction. I’ve since designed a program I call Tactical Healing to help police officers, EMT workers and other first responders to deal with the chronic pain, fatigue and depression that are side effects of the job. It’s a program that saves lives (officers), reputations (leaders) and money (departments).
Having been an officer for 15 years, I can tell you the officers who take their own lives are not mentally ill. They are not people who can’t hack it in this job. They are humans pushed to an inhuman place and expected to perform superhumanly for too long. And it might not be about anything they have seen or done. It could just be the job itself that pushes them to this point.
It could start innocently with the rotating shifts most departments subscribe to. What happens to the human body when you are put on a rotating shift is not something that even your family practice physician will understand. What if I told you that you needed 90 days on a specific sleeping schedule to get a full night’s sleep? When first responders have to work rotating shifts or when they have their usual sleep schedule interrupted, it causes much more damage than most people realize.
No matter how many police suicides we hear about, no one seems to have ever seen any signs until it was too late. I kept mine hidden as best I could for the longest I could. What does a high white cell count have to do with suicide? Not being able to eat an ever-growing list of foods? These have a lot more to do with the issue than one would think.
Sleep deprivation is a serious medical issue and it is often misdiagnosed or just ignored as the underlying cause for headaches, high blood pressure, stomach issues, leading up to and including death. My program, Tactical Healing, which was designed for first responders facing physical and emotional stress, covers the signs and symptoms of sleep deprivation as well as the treatment options available to everyone.
The Tactical Healing program also works with first responders on frequent injury locations like the back, neck and knees. Simple movements that are easy to perform will help strengthen these areas so an officer is less prone to injury. A Michigan Officer who took the class reported a year later that the class “saved his knee.” Apparently he was scheduled for surgery and ultimately was able to cancel the surgery as the movements taught during the precursor class “Tactical Yoga” strengthened his knee sufficiently so he was no longer experiencing pain.
Tactical Healing also covers specific pain points as well. How many officers or first responders have had that excruciating heel pain that made you want to avoid putting your foot on the floor in the morning? There are certain things we can teach you to alleviate that pain. I used to hop to the restroom in the morning just to avoid putting my foot on the floor and even had to take high-dose painkillers to alleviate the pain for a while. I haven’t had that pain in years. No more medications. No expensive cortisone shots. No more surgery.
The amazing thing about this program is that no one has to know if you are utilizing the information or the practice. There is no medical record to record visits or medications. No shame. These tools can be employed in your own home, on your own time, in the patrol car after a call, in the fire station after the fire, in the ambulance on the way back to the base from the hospital. These tools can be utilized anywhere at any time.
Yes, departments all have employee assistance programs, and counseling is always available, but it really seems these things aren’t working. Whether first responders are concerned about a stigma or someone finding out, the fact remains we are still seeing suicides and first responders becoming overwhelmed. Tactical Healing addresses the first responder wholly: body, mind and spirit.