Among many different factors, one’s environment can play a major role in increasing risk for suicide. Almost 57% of suicide risk can be attributed traumatic events occurring in one’s physical and social environments. Stressful life events experienced at the neighborhood and community levels can create feelings of hopelessness, fear, sorrow, and despair. If left untreated, such feelings can translate to suicidal thoughts and/or attempts. One major environmental exposure of concern is police victimization, whose impacts stem beyond its immediate effects on death and physical harm.
A study published just last year, found a 12-month prevalence of suicide attempts among individuals with lifetime exposure to police victimization. Police victimization was defined as: physical violence, physical violence with a weapon, sexual assault, psychological victimization, and neglect. Racial/ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, males, and low income populations disproportionately experienced and/or witnessed police victimization. Suicide attempts were highest among individuals specifically exposed to assaultive forms of police victimization such as physical violence, physical violence with a weapon, and sexual assault. In brief, it was established that assaultive police victimization is strongly associated with suicide attempts.
Given its serious collateral effects on mental health, there is an urgent need to prevent suicide among marginalized communities heavily exposed to police victimization. Comprehensive, trauma-informed trainings for police officers are one of many upstream approaches to help prevent exposure to police victimization. Trainings should specifically include information on Race-Based Trauma, given that police victimization is most commonly reported by African American and Latino populations. Additionally, people reporting exposure to police victimization should be screened for suicide ideation and/or attempts with tools that specifically assess for physical and sexual violence during police-community encounters. Screenings should then of course be followed by appropriate ongoing treatment and support. Applying both a preventive and treatment lens to this issue is critical, as it will ensure that we are fully supporting the lives, health, and wellbeing of individuals and entire communities impacted by police victimization.
San Mateo County’s Suicide Prevention Committee is currently focusing on two workgroups: QPR training and outreach. To learn more about the Suicide Prevention Committee, and how to become a member of the committee, visit here.
Written by Angelica Delgado, Office of Diversity and Equity