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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Suicide Awareness

In an effort to bring awareness to the pervasive problem of suicide, I want to highlight how frequently our officers are dealing with these sad situations, particularly during the holiday season. In our region suicides and suicide attempts seem to peak shortly after the holiday season.  Many people are surprised to hear attempted suicide calls are common for our officers to respond to; each year Duluth police respond to well over 400 suicide threat calls and average between 8 and 12 actual suicides.  
Most cops dread a suicide call because of the incomprehensible pain and emotions the loved ones and family members go through.  Investigating a suicide of a juvenile is particularly tough and no doubt these cases are branded in the minds of police officers.  Every police officer has these stories and no doubt are affected in some way by these tragedies. It is an aspect of police work citizens don’t think about.

One suicide I remember that stands out involved a 10 year old boy who returned home from school to find his mother (and only family member in the state) dead from a gun shot wound to the head.  He showed little emotion in the two hours I spent with him as he obviously was in shock and did not comprehend what had happened at that point.  It is two hours of my life I will never forget and I often wonder how the boy is doing.

We also remember those incidents where we have had opportunities to help someone prior to committing suicide.  I know officers often wonder if the intervention made a difference and hope those folks are now better.  Statistics from the National Institute for Mental Health show an estimated 11 nonfatal suicide attempts occur per every suicide death. Men and the elderly are more likely to have fatal attempts than women and youth.

There are lessons to be learned by looking at suicide cases to help us stop a family member or loved one from committing suicide.  If you come away with anything from reading this, remember to always take suicidal comments very seriously. When a person says that he or she is thinking about suicide, you must always take the threats as though the person will follow through.  It is a potentially disastrous error to assume the person making the comments has another motive. 

If someone you know talks of committing suicide and you are in doubt as to what to do, call 911. A police officer will respond and make the decision as to what is in the person’s best interest. Officers are trained in dealing with these situations and will handle them in a sensitive manner, ensuring that the person gets the immediate help they need.

 I’ve run across cases where someone has told a loved one to keep his or her suicidal intentions a secret.  That is a case where you should never keep that secret. Under no circumstances can you keep a "secret" that could cause someone's death. You are not violating any privacy rules; you are taking the steps necessary to prevent a suicide.


  1. Well written, Chief Ramsay. In Minnesota 70% of gun deaths are due to suicide. Prevention is the key and prevention is possible with the help of family and friends and the community.

  2. The only thing I would change is that last paragraph: "... Under no circumstances can you keep a "secret" that could cause someone's death..."

    It is a serious and cruel mistake to put blame on someone who is *not* the cause.

    Keeping the secret will not *cause* someone's death, though it might well *allow* it to happen. There is a huge difference!

    Encourage people to tell, certainly, but because, otherwise the person might succeed in the attempt, and they have an opportunity to help stop that outcome, and make it possible for the person to get the help they desperately need. You can't fix what's wrong for a person desperate enough to attempt suicide, but you can help make sure they have a chance to reconsider.

    Better to lose a friend through a breach of confidence, than through loss of life.