Deputy John Helme is tired of watching his friends die.
As the law enforcement corrections coordinator for the Suncoast Criminal Justice Academy and a Navy veteran, Dep. Helme’s has seen it all, but none more disturbing than the rise in law enforcement suicides. In 2019, more police officers died by suicide than active duty deaths. This harrowing number is just a snapshot of the mental illness crisis facing our law enforcement today. It has become increasingly clear that this is one of the largest mental health crises in America and the need for change has become undeniably urgent. One determined organization has taken up the fight.
In an effort to combat this serious issue, Dep. Helme and the Suncoast Criminal Justice Academy recently partnered with The Gelt Charitable Foundation, a leader in suicide prevention education to offer police officers a suicide prevention workshop.
According to a 2018 research study conducted by SAMHSA, law enforcement experience elevated risk for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide. What stops them from accessing treatment or asking for help? Stigma.
“Our law enforcement are on the frontlines everyday helping others, but there is a stigma around asking for help for themselves,” shared Leigh Ioffe, the director of education at the Gelt Charitable Foundation. “Too many officers suffer silently and they shouldn’t have to. Depression, aided by stigma, is a silent killer.”
Mrs. Ioffe facilitated the workshop titled “If You See Something, Say Something.” It took place on May 3rd as part of a larger mental health conference the officers took part in. The 75-minute workshop equipped participants with the skills and tools to recognize and stop a suicide, not only on the field, but at home.
“No officer wants to be put in a position in which they don’t know what to do when they are with someone who is considering suicide,” says Dep. Helme. “This workshop, which was even more than I was hoping for, arms them with the information they need.” This is how the stigma will begin to fade away: by teaching law enforcement how to better support each other and creating a space in which it is okay to not be okay while working one of the most dangerous jobs in America.
Participating offices in the suicide prevention training included the Sarasota PD, Venice PD, North Port PD, the Office of Corrections and the Sheriff’s Office.
The Gelt Charitable Foundation has been on the frontlines of suicide prevention education, training hundreds of universities, faith based communities, and medical organizations, but their passion has been, and continues to be, law enforcement. They want to ensure that everyone has access to these resources, and that every day, more people understand that mental wellness needs to be a priority for people of all groups, ages and demographics. The Foundation recently expanded their offerings with a new workshop “You are Not Alone” which focuses on understanding the steps before suicide ideation, how to create an environment and space in which mental wellness is put on the front burner.
“Police and first responder mental health is something we don’t highlight enough,” shared Jack Miller, the founder at the Gelt Charitable Foundation. “It was an honor working with the Suncoast Training Academy and I hope that other departments take this to heart and follow suit.”
Looking forward, both Dep. Helme and the Gelt Charitable Foundation envision a future where every first responder received mental health training of this nature. “These kinds of conversations save lives,” shared Dep. Helme.
The Gelt Charitable Foundation provides affordable and accessible world-class suicide prevention and mental wellness education. To learn more about bringing one of their workshops to your community, visit geltcharitable.foundation/mentalhealth. The Gelt Charitable Foundation is funded by Gelt Financial: https://geltfinancial.com/