Coping with stress when dealing with suicide

Every police officer has to deal with suicide at some point.

When are police officers faced with suicide cases? Police officers initially treat every death which might be a result of criminal actions. This is the same for every suicide and every police officer can eventually be faced with a suicide case. This is especially true for police officers that are in charge of crime scene investigations, crime scene technicians, criminologists, detectives, etc. Most police officers are sooner or later faced with suicide cases. It is possible that a police officer deals with suicide cases only for a few times in his career or this can happen frequently.

Stres po samomoru na delovnem mestu

A study conducted at Andrej Marušič Institute showed that in most suicide cases police officers arrive at the scene after receiving a phone call from the deceased person’s family members, which are commonly the first to the scene. The cause of death is often withheld until after the criminal or forensic investigation is completed.

Coping with stress when dealing with suicide

Dealing with death is always stressful because the death of someone forces us to consider our own vulnerabilities and mortality. Our response to stress depends on many factors including our relationship with the deceased, the type of death and appearance of the corpse, our attitude, experience, personal views, and personal characteristics. These factors determine how severe the response is. Scenes of severe self-harm in suicide cases, a suicide of a relative or co-workers, suicide of a child or adolescent, and being present when someone commits suicide are among the most difficult situations.

Tragic deaths of children are one of the most stressful events for every profession that involves crisis interventions – police officers, rescue workers, and firefighters.

Methods of coping with stress after a suicide depend upon the individual’s coping skills, supportive environment, and personal growth, especially if they are frequently exposed to those situations.

These stresses can lead to the individual burning out, especially if they are frequently exposed to stressful events and if they cope with them in inappropriate ways.

If a person pushes these unpleasant feelings aside, it can lead to apathy, and pose a risk for development of anxiety disorders (panic attacks, generalized anxiety), depressive disorders, alcohol addiction, or physical problems that have psychological origins. Therefore, it is important that we pay attention to every emotional aspect that is connected to a stressful event. If possible, we should discuss the event and our perception of it with a confidential person.

In cases of severe stress immediately after the event, debriefing with a mental health professional is needed.

It is important to talk about our emotional experience, physical reactions, thoughts, problems in everyday functioning, self-help techniques, and to seek further professional help.

Psychological intervention for police officers

24-hour psychological interventions are organized for police officers giving them the opportunity to talk to a psychologist anonymously. Police officers can also confide in peer police officers. These peer officers have experience with severe stressful events and are professionally qualified to provide emotional support to colleagues in crisis. In situations that involve several police officers, debriefings are conducted. This is a pre-structured form of a confidential comforting group interview, aimed at those who were involved in the event. Even with these debriefings, the individual has to be prepared to ask for help and/or accept it, which is not always easy or obvious. This may take some time before the affected person can do this.

 Research shows that debriefing is the most effective immediately after the event or a few days later.

We can do a lot for reducing and avoiding stress individually, like:

  • engaging in physical activity,
  • maintaining a healthy lifestyle without chemical stressors (alcohol, drugs, large amounts of caffeine, and sugar),
  • getting adequate rest,
  • having hobbies in which we enjoy and acknowledge ourselves,
  • practicing relaxation techniques (meditation, mindfulness),
  • maintaining good relationships at home and workplace,
  • willingness to talk and solve problems when they appear, and
  • relieving concerns caused by minor troubles.

Many of these activities not only increase happiness and improve our resistance to stress, but are also very effective techniques that an individual can use to cope with stress.


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