CPD’s third suicide in recent weeks spotlights need for mental health awareness among officers

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CHICAGO -- A veteran Chicago police officer took her own life Wednesday outside a far South Side police station. It's the third suicide among the ranks of CPD in recent weeks and the third death at that police station since July.

The 54-year-old has not been identified, but police said she was found in her own vehicle in the parking lot of the 5th District police station on 111th Street just before she was to report for duty.

Her death follows the July 8 suicide of 36-year-old Officer Brandon Krueger. He too shot himself in the same parking lot but inside his squad car.  And earlier this month, 47-year-old Sergeant Steven Bechina committed suicide in his squad car in the West Loop.

Last year, the Department of Justice report found the suicide rate in CPD is 60 percent higher than the national average.

Dr. Robert Schulman is the associate chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Rush University and has extensively studied and treated veterans dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He says police officers and other first responders deal with the same issues.

“There are a lot of things that contribute to suicide,” he said. “For certain people on the street, it does become a combat zone.”

Unfortunately, police officers don’t always seek treatment for a number of reasons.

Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham also points out there can be a fear of losing one’s job because of past mental health restrictions when it comes to having a Firearm Owners Identification Card. And the stigma of appearing weak also prevents officers from getting help.

“Police officers in many ways have learned to stuff how they feel and sometimes this is the result because they are not getting care
that is why I’m talking about it today, in the past we haven’t talked about it,” Graham said. “The stress that is involved in this job now is greater than it was 10 years ago. There certainly is more criticism. You are under the microscope every minute of the time.”

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson sent a letter to officers informing them of the latest death and encouraged them to seek help if they need it:

We work so hard in this Department - for our community, for our neighbors, and for our families. But often, we work so hard for others that we forget to worry about ourselves, for our own well-being. You, the Officers on the street, the Officers answering that domestic, responding to a person in crisis; you are the backbone of this Department and without you, we are nothing.
Death by suicide is clearly a problem in Law Enforcement and in the Chicago Police Department. We all have our breaking points, a time of weakness where we feel as if there is no way out, no alternative. But it does not have to end that way. You are NOT alone. Death by suicide is a problem that we can eliminate together.
Seek help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength. Knowing that we have limits, that we cannot do everything on our own, asking for help - that is a true sign of strength. You are NOT alone.
EAP clinicians and counselors will be available to members of the 5th District, a resource available every day for all Officers. Reach out to someone if you need help. Talk to your partners, supervisors, Police chaplains, clergy, peer support or any of our EAP clinicians and counselors who are available to you 24/7.
I pray for our fellow Officer, her family, and all who have been affected by her death. Let's look out for one another, and as always, stay safe.

Schulman said unfortunately officers turn to unhealthy ways to cope, like drugs and alcohol, even suicide.

“The healthier way is just being able to talk about it,” Dr. Shulman said. “Just being able to process when things don’t go well, being able to talk to supportive colleagues, family, being able to ventilate and express one thoughts and feelings.”

Graham said they will be talking about ways to improve the mental health of officers during contract negotiations when they resume. In meantime, he is encouraging officer to contact the EAP or the FOP if they need help.

If you or someone you know needs help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers crisis counseling free of charge every day of the year. That number is 1-800-273-8255.  You can also text HOME to 741741

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