Study Shows Suicide A Greater Danger To Police Officers Than Homicide

September 18, 1996

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Police officers are eight times more likely to die by their own hand than by homicide, a study by University at Buffalo epidemiologists has shown.

They also take their own lives at a much higher rate than other municipal employees, the findings indicated.

The study is one of the few empirical analyses of police officers' risk of suicide, homicide and accidental death, and the only study to compare their risk to that in other occupations.

"We are hoping this study will make the police community aware that suicide is a problem, not a myth, not something that should be shrugged aside," said John M. Violanti, Ph.D., UB assistant clinical professor of social and preventive medicine, a 23-year veteran of the New York State Police and lead author on the study.

And while the study was based on data from the Buffalo Police Department, Violanti said the Buffalo statistics mirror those of police departments around the country. "We looked at five other cities, and all five departments were higher in suicide than other occupations. I think this is a pretty good indicator of what's going on out there."

Results of the study appeared in a recent issue of American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

Violanti and colleagues from the UB Department of Social and Preventive Medicine analyzed mortality data for Buffalo police officers and other municipal workers who died between 1950 and 1990 of external causes (causes not related to disease). A panel of medical examiners verified each cause of death and ended up reclassifying the demise of four police officers and one municipal worker from "undetermined" to suicide.

Police suicides are often misclassified for a variety of reasons, Violanti said, which leads to an underestimation of the risk.

The 138 people in the study, all white males, consisted of 39 police officers and 89 municipal workers. Analysis of cause of death determined that: Possible reasons for the high risk of suicide among police officers are many, according to the study. They included: continuous exposure to human misery, an overbearing police bureaucracy, shift work, social strain, marital difficulties, inconsistencies of the criminal justice system, alcohol problems, physical illness, impending retirement, lack of control over work and personal lives.

Violanti said he thinks the biggest reason police officers die by suicide at high rates is because they have nowhere to go for confidential help when personal problems or job stress overwhelms them.

"If you look at the data, most people who commit suicide have never gone for help," he said. "Police officers are even more hesitant than the average citizen to get help for emotional problems. Because of their role and their job, they mistrust many things, and they especially mistrust mental health professionals. The other half of the problem is, confidential help isn't always readily available.

"Departments should include some sort of suicide awareness training in their stress management program," Violanti added. "The New York City Police Department has such a program and suicides went down after it was instituted. The Buffalo department now also has a program in place. "

Compounding the situation is the ready availability of a weapon, he said. Suicide often is an impulsive act, and the suicide method of choice by males in American society -- the handgun -- is literally at a police officer's side and is guaranteed to be lethal in the hands of an experienced shooter.

Violanti also is on the criminal justice faculty at Rochester Institute of Technology. Other researchers on the project were John E. Vena, Ph.D., of the UB Department of Social and Preventive Medicine and James Marshall, Ph.D., formerly of that department.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

University at Buffalo

Related Mental Health Articles from Brightsurf:

Mental health strained by disaster
A new study found that suicide rates increase during all types of disasters -- including severe storms, floods, hurricanes and ice storms -- with the largest overall increase occurring two years after a disaster.

The mental health impact of pandemics for front line health care staff
New research shows the impact that pandemics have on the mental health of front-line health care staff.

World Mental Health Day -- CACTUS releases report of largest researcher mental health survey
On the occasion of 'World Mental Health Day' 2020, CACTUS, a global scientific communications company, has released a global survey on mental health, wellbeing and fulfilment in academia.

Mental illness, mental health care use among police officers
A survey study of Texas police officers examines how common mental illness and mental health care use are in a large urban department.

COVID-19 outbreak and mental health
The use of online platforms to guide effective consumption of information, facilitate social support and continue mental health care delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic is discussed in this Viewpoint.

COVID-19 may have consequences for mental health
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be adversely affecting mental health among hospitalised patients, the healthcare professionals treating them and the general population.

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.

Mental ill health 'substantial health concern' among police, finds international study
Mental health issues among police officers are a 'substantial health concern,' with around 1 in 4 potentially drinking at hazardous levels and around 1 in 7 meeting the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder and depression, finds a pooled data analysis of the available international evidence, published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Examining health insurance nondiscrimination policies with mental health among gender minority individuals
A large private health insurance database was used to examine the association between between health insurance nondiscrimination policies and mental health outcomes for gender minority individuals.

Mental health care for adolescents
Researchers examined changes over time in the kinds of mental health problems for which adolescents in the United States received care and where they got that care in this survey study with findings that should be interpreted within the context of several limitations including self-reported information.

Read More: Mental Health News and Mental Health Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to