The Burden of the Badge: How will we know if stigma is being erased?

The Burden of the Badge: How will we know if stigma is being erased?

BOSTON — Last year, 159 police officers took their own lives in the United States.

That's 15 more officers than were killed in the line of duty in the same year.

It's an issue that few talk about and the deep, dark reality for too many police officers, firefighters, and paramedics.

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According to Blue Help, an organization in Auburn, Massachusetts, seven officers in Massachusetts took their own lives last year.

And while the numbers are on the rise, Blue Help's founder, Karen Solomon, wonders if what's behind the numbers is a result of the stigma slowly going away.

"If it's going up, we won't know for a few more years," she said. "Right now, we know that it's being reported more frequently to us."

Of those who've committed suicide, they average between the ages of 40-49 and have served in law enforcement for 17 years.

The biggest factor may be the stigma of seeking mental health assistance and the idea that many first responders are afraid to mention it to their peers.

"They can't get help or they feel like they can't get help," Solomon explained. "So that, to me, is a big factor. The stigma, the culture, and the seriousness of how an officer feels about seeking help."

In January, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill that ensures law enforcement officers can get help from peers without it being held against them in court.

Now, lawmakers are considering a bill to require an hour of training on suicide each year.

"I don't feel like it's enough. It's a start. It's more than what some states have, but I think what needs to happen is more money being given for longer term care of the officers," said Solomon.

Already this year, 31 officers have taken their own lives in the United States. There are resources out there for people to use, including the national suicide prevention hotline.

If you know someone who is struggling, please urge them to get help.

The national suicide hotline is open 24 hours a day.

It could be the phone call that saves a life of someone who desperately need sit.