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Fighting officer suicide 'epidemic,' police culture of silence


Monday, February 11, 2013

Here in lies the problem across all emergency services where we still classify suicide as the result of weakness! This isn’t about one individual at all but about our culture. What do you really think? What does your leadership think? What are you going to do about it?

Fighting officer suicide 'epidemic,' police culture of silence

After 3 on Waukegan force kill selves in less than 2 years, chief's email blames 'selfishness and weakness'

By Dan Hinkel, Chicago Tribune reporter

February 8, 2013

Three Waukegan police officers have killed themselves since May 2011, and Chief Daniel Greathouse says he's working to stem an "epidemic" in his department.

But three days after the third officer's funeral, Greathouse emailed his department and said the suicides had nothing to do with the pressures of police work and were related to the officers' "weakness."

"These suicides were about personal choices, selfishness and weakness," he wrote Jan. 19 in an email obtained by the Tribune.

Police psychologists said that was not the message officers needed to hear; they said the force should be told that feeling pain and seeking help don't mean an officer is weak or incapable. Police have been slow to acknowledge their suffering in part because of a culture of silence in law enforcement and the stigmatization of mental illness, psychologists and police mental health advocates said.

Little data exist to establish a reliable police suicide rate, but advocates believe officers face a higher risk because the job's stresses can compound an officer's personal or mental health problems. Chiefs have a key role in encouraging mental wellness, psychologists and advocates said, because their attitudes can influence whether officers get help or suffer in secret.

"What person in his right mind would seek mental health treatment knowing that the person in command has already shown them it's a signal of weakness and selfishness?" said Laurence Miller, a police psychologist based in Florida.

Greathouse told the Tribune there is no evidence that any of the suicides were linked to police work. Asked about the email, which he sent in response to another officer's message, Greathouse said he was going through an anger stage of grieving after going to the third funeral and giving the man's badges to his daughters.

"They say you should never respond to an email when you are angry. I say you should also never respond to an email when you are grieving the loss of a friend," he wrote in an email.

Greathouse said he plans to use "every resource available" as he develops suicide awareness and prevention programs.

The widow of Mark Sturtevant, the second officer to die, said she doesn't think police work is to blame for his death, and that he wouldn't have felt comfortable seeking help, illustrating the difficulty of getting officers the help they may need.

"He would have said that, you know, 'If I were ever to go to counseling or seek help or whatever, people would think I was crazy, and they wouldn't think I could do my job as well and they wouldn't respect me,'" Lisa Sturtevant said.

3 officers within 2 years

The first to take his life was Officer Mark Jacobs, who died of a gunshot wound in his Palatine home in May 2011, according to a report from the Cook County medical examiner's office.

Less than 11 months later, Sturtevant, 43, hanged himself in a co-worker's Gurnee home, where he sometimes had stayed when having family problems toward the end of his life, according to the Lake County coroner's office. He left behind a 21-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son, his family said. He grew up in a family of three brothers and two sisters, and all three brothers have committed suicide, his mother said.

On Jan. 10, Sgt. Peter Michaels, 42, was found dead of a gunshot wound in a wooded area near Antioch, authorities said. The coroner's office has not ruled on the cause, but his death appears to have been a suicide, said Wayne Hunter, chief deputy of the Lake County sheriff's office. Michaels had a wife and two daughters, according to an obituary.

For more information go to:,0,1239556.story

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