Police chief's view: Holiday joy has a dark companion in suicides
I'll never forget the two hours of my police career -- and of my life -- that I spent with a 10-year-old boy who returned home from school to find his mother, the only member of his family in the state, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to...
I'll never forget the two hours of my police career -- and of my life -- that I spent with a 10-year-old boy who returned home from school to find his mother, the only member of his family in the state, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He showed little emotion. Obviously, he was in shock and not comprehending what had happened.
I often wonder how that boy is doing.
I think of him now because the holidays are fast approaching and suicides and suicide attempts peak shortly after the holiday season. Each year in Duluth police respond to well over 400 suicide threats and eight to 12 actual suicides.
Most cops dread these calls because of the incomprehensible pain and emotions loved ones and family members go through. Investigating the suicide of a juvenile is particularly tough. No doubt these cases are branded into the minds of the officers who respond. Every police officer has a story and is affected in some way by such tragedies. It is an aspect of police work citizens don't often think about.
Officers remember, too, trying to help someone before a suicide attempt. They wonder if their intervention made a difference. They hope those suffering are doing better.
Statistics from the National Institute for Mental Health show an estimated 11 nonfatal suicide attempts 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 that can help us stop a family member or a 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 he or she is thinking about suicide, always assume the person will try to follow through. It is a potentially disastrous error to assume any other course.
If someone you know talks of committing suicide and you are not sure what to do, call 911. A police officer will respond and make a decision about what's in the person's best interest. Officers are trained to deal with such situations and can handle them in a sensitive manner, ensuring the immediate help that's needed.
I've run across cases where someone has told a loved one to keep his or her suicidal intentions a secret. Don't do it. Under no circumstances can anyone keep a secret that potentially involves someone's death. You are not violating any privacy rules by intervening; you are taking steps necessary to prevent a suicide.
This is a sad and tough topic to discuss, especially around the holidays. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Duluth Police Department go out to all who've lost a family member or a loved one to suicide, including the boy who's no longer 10. At the same time it's important to remember to be very aware of what can be done when faced with someone who is suicidal.
Gordon Ramsay is Duluth's police chief.