Isolation is deadly. Ask for help!

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War correspondent, the late Marie Colvin, was a tough nut…she had to be.

By Caitlin Kelly

It has been a brutal year for New York City police officers — two of whom committed suicide this week alone, nine so far this year.

A friend, Tanzina Vega, is rocking it as host of the daily NPR radio show The Takeaway, and they did a great segment on this; link here.

The show dug into why police officers are prone to depression and to making the terrible final decision of suicide.

A key element, not surprisingly, is a professional culture of silence.

If managers and supervisors don’t allow workers to show tender, difficult feelings — of grief, fear, confusion, anger, revulsion — all of which would be normal reactions to the toughest elements of police work, where can those emotions go?

Nowhere.

If fellow professionals sneer at you for being “weak”, you won’t ever show how you really feel, no matter how toxic is it to marinate in misery alone.

A former cop who spoke on the show referred to after-work drinks as “choir practice”, alcohol being one acceptable way to numb one’s feelings after another day dealing with violence, mayhem and death.

 

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This also hit me because journalism offers a very similar culture — long hours, low pay and a lot of stress. It’s hierarchical and macho. The “best” assignments, the ones that win us front page and major awards, are often about witnessing and describing in detail the very worst events — shootings, terrorism, natural disasters.

Some journalists are as exposed to violence and gore as cops, yet we, too, have almost nowhere to let out our feelings of horror and sadness after the story is filed or the broadcast made. And co-workers and managers working on less disturbing material have no idea what it’s like, while those who do can, like cops, often throw up a thick, tight wall of defense, dismissing anyone’s emotions about it as sissy or unprofessional.

When they are human.

In my early 20s, I worked briefly at the Canadian Press, a wire service, and my Sunday night job was “fats” — short for “fatalities”. I had to find the province’s deaths that weekend — like car crashes — and write them into a story.

I began to dread it.

I really hated it when a perky coworker named Judy finally said “It’s just numbers!”

No.

It’s human beings.

The day we ignore, dismiss and bury our grief and rage — whether created by our feelings about work or politics or climate change or family dramas — is the day we turn that violence against ourselves.

 

Everyone needs and deserves a safe space to air these out.

12 thoughts on “Isolation is deadly. Ask for help!

  1. I am sure it is hard to be a police officer. Especially in places where crime runs rampant. Have to have this incredibly tough side to be able to do what you have to do and yet, it would be so much healthier if you could combine that with a release for your very human feelings. Always amazed at people who choose that line of work. And I’m so grateful that they do. But it makes me so sad when I see people become so hard, when please brutality and other things become an issue. There has to be a solution but I certainly don’t know what it is.

  2. Our regional CEO has talked about how glad he is our organization has so many resources in place for people going through difficult situations. We’re not police officers, but what we do can be pretty hard as well, and sometimes people break down under the stress. I’ve gone to see a counselor at work a couple of times just to talk my feelings out, which has been helpful when I’ve been feeling anxious or burned out.
    I know how lucky I am to have these resources and be able to use them. I know a lot of people aren’t as lucky.

  3. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Sunday links | A Bit More Detail

  4. Dale Moore

    Great article! I am retired corrections and taught Staff Suicide Awareness, required for all staff every year. The year to year numbers of staff taking their own lives within the department were humbling and disturbing. I always tried to stress the importance of not only watching each others back at work, but watching out for each others mental health.

  5. I think it is rife through work almost everywhere. Anywhere where the end result of the job is more important than the people doing the job. The drive to succeed, make the money, get ‘ahead’ overrides the sense of community. Perhaps it’s an integral element of a capitalist society, and ultimately the root cause of our current climate emergency
    Perhaps if we start to allow ‘real’ feelings to surface, and to respond to the needs of individuals rather than ‘progress’, we might have a chance. But do we have time?

    1. Thanks….Certainly American work/life is a nightmare of endless exhortations to be “more productive” as if this were the best use of everyone’s time and life. It’s not. It is for capitalists who need to keep Wall Street happy — the rest of us? Not so much.

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