Help is not a (dirty) 4 letter word

Hand of HelpIn the rush to understand all the high tech getting thrown at us on a pretty much constant basis, I think we often forget what the tech is actually for: to connect. With other human beings.

Back in the ’80s and ’90s, the promise of computer technology was better efficiency. We’d be able to automate rote tasks such that we’d be able to spend more time, better time, with friends and family.

That hasn’t happened. We automate a lot, but we’ve also found new uses for the technology, ones that require us to spend the same number of hours at work. In many cases we’ve made connections with people that never would’ve been possible without the tech; we’ve formed friendships, made a real difference in others’ lives.

But in other ways, we’re more disconnected. Maybe not more so than before, but not in lesser proportion, either. And just like always, including before high tech, we don’t always realize it until something goes wrong.

This afternoon I found out that a man I knew and very much respected had committed suicide just a few hours previously. Trey Pennington was a wonderful, engaging person, one of the first to welcome me to Greenville’s professional community, and who always inspired me with his kindness and graciousness.

I watched the condolences and memories and expressions of grief spill over his Facebook page, my Twitter stream. Among them: “One of the worst things about social media is we can be surrounded by so many and still feel completely alone.”

Trey wasn’t a cop—he was a marketer who understood the great potential of social media and human relationships to marketing—but I’m writing about his death here because his depression and suicide mirror the pressures experienced (disproportionately so) in the law enforcement community.

Building the line stronger

Helplessness carries stigma. Especially for those sworn to protect and serve, to be a rock for people who have none, to admit weakness is to weaken the thin blue line. At least, that’s what a lot of people believe (including the officers who are afraid they’ll be fired, censured, reassigned or otherwise chastened for disclosing their problem).

Even apart from that, to ask for help is a risk. The risk you take that you’ll be rejected by those who are “more successful” or “too happy for me to bring them down” or “going places” or even simply “got enough to worry about” can seem unbearable. You don’t want to trouble them. And yes, there are some who will feel troubled, and will let you know.

But the fact is, leaving the weak to fend for themselves is what weakens the line. There are others, true friends, who will stand up and be the rock you need. They deserve the chance to do that for you.

We can do better, people. All our social connections mean nothing if we can’t come together and share our burdens, however heavy they are, and do it in a real and meaningful way. Meanwhile, for those who don’t have those connections, or can’t bring themselves to ask them:

If you’re in law enforcement and you feel suicidal, Safe Call Now was established specifically for public safety personnel, by public safety personnel. Call them. Especially if you don’t feel you can rely on those you’re closest to.

If you know someone in law enforcement (or any public safety profession) you are concerned about, contact Safe Call Now to find out how you might be able to help. Be brave. It can take a lot to help someone who is depressed. But it can mean a lot, too.

If you are a non-public-safety person reading this and you feel suicidal, but don’t feel as if you can reach out to those in your immediate network, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

(I know it can be hard to reach out to strangers. But in many ways, talking to a stranger who has no ties to you, no history and therefore no baggage, can help in ways you may not realize. It’s a different perspective, and their caring comes from a different place. So please call one of the above resources if you need to.)

None of us has to go through life alone, and none of us should die because we felt too alone to go on. Love social media or hate it, be the connections your friends and family and colleagues need—even if it doesn’t seem like they do.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Alex E. Proimos

4 thoughts on “Help is not a (dirty) 4 letter word

  1. Laura

    Wee reminder that i love you Christa and i am very, truly sorry to hear that you have lost Trey, a man from your community to a horrible disease…depression. Hugs to you and thanks for giving information out for others who may need help.

  2. Andy O'Hara

    Great article, Christa, and thanks for sharing of yourself so poignantly. The truth is, we need to go a step farther. For years, actually, we’ve been telling officers to “get help when they need it.” This is good, and we need to encourage that. We can’t keep sitting back until the crisis hits. We need to push officers to get help BEFORE they need it–which means taking care of their mental health as much as they take care of their physical health. Programs are available to do this, providing officers the tools to arm themselves for the critical incidents and long-term effects of this toxic career field. We need only for departments to step up into the 21st century and take a true interest in the well-being of their officers. That’s a hard pill for them to swallow, but everyone needs to push for that to happen. Only then will we see an impact on the police suicides and mental health problems we have in the ranks.

    While we support the many law enforcement hotlines that have cropped up like safecall, cop2cop, poppa (NY) and others, we want to remind everyone that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline IS for uniformed personnel also. Whether it’s for yourself or someone close to you, they will transfer it to one of their centers in that local area to make direct contact.

    Thanks again, Christa, for your comments on this very important topic. We have far to go–but we will go there.

  3. Christa Miller Post author

    Andy, thanks for the great comment. I could not agree more in the need to get help before officers need it — I know of several investigators who take advantage of EMDR therapy, for example, to help them stave off the effects of viewing child sex abuse images. I wish that more police leaders saw this as a strength rather than a weakness, and encouraged ALL their officers to do the same.

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