In recent years, efforts to destigmatize mental health have been made all across the country. Whether it’s through celebrities speaking out about their struggles or organizations like Bring Change To Mind being formed to educate the public, a change is occuring. However, there is one line of work that still has progress to make; the police force, often the first to respond to a suicide attempt, is having trouble battling the stigma and making mental health a safe topic to discuss.
On September 12th, Regine Perpignan became the third officer from the Chicago Police Department to commit suicide in two months. She shot herself in her car, which was parked in the parking lot of the Calumet District police station. Perpignan’s family recalled that she had depression and had attempted suicide in the past. The CPD also knew that she had been hospitalized recently. Why, then, did she not speak out and get help? Eddie Johnson, the Chicago Police Superintendent, weighed in, noting that some officers knew about Perpignan’s struggles but decided not to tell anyone. The primary reason for this seems to be to protect her job. Because she was afraid for being fired of something she couldn’t control. Because this stigma was enabled and perpetuated by her career.
As a result of the officer suicides, Supt. Johnson made sure to enact change at the station. Shortly after Perpignan’s death, he started to send all officers involved (as opposed to the officer directly involved) in a traumatic event for evaluation. He will assign therapists to each unit and district starting next year. In addition, he will ensure that officers won’t get fired for seeking mental health treatment by passing a law that lets officers keep their FOID cards while getting help. Supt. Johnson understands that “we need to normalize cops being able to ask for help” and that “we need to take the stigma away.” Although a little late, the CPD is taking a step in the right direction, and other precincts and districts should follow suit.
If you are struggling with suicide, please know that we at Redefy send you our love and support, and we encourage you to do whatever is necessary to help yourself. We have attached below a link to lists of suicide hotlines and the phone number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.