What can Junior Seau's suicide teach LEOs?

Junior Seau's death has shown us is that even the toughest of the tough can sometimes feel out of control and vulnerable

I think all of us were shocked and touched by the recent news of Junior Seau’s suicide. Particularly those amongst us that are die hard Football fans. What particularly affected me was seeing his mother in front of those microphones the next day in a display of love and sheer devastation. Sadly and unfortunately, I have seen that all too often as a member of the San Jose Police Department Crisis Management Unit (CMU). What Junior Seau did was, in a very paradoxical sense, give all men the opportunity to finally admit that even the toughest among us have emotional pain to the point of experiencing excruciating depression.

When I worked in the CMU I got to experience firsthand a number of police suicides. At one juncture several years ago, we had two police suicides within a week. That was one of the lowest points the SJPD has experienced in recent memory. The officers who took their own lives knew there were enumerable resources at their disposal, but they all refused to take advantage of them.

Naturally, the number one question that comes to mind is "Why?" Why couldn’t they or wouldn’t they attempt to get help? The increasing irony is that I knew the three who killed themselves during my tenure in the unit. They all knew that help was there for them. We have two full time pastors, medical and health plans, private counselors and therapists. Just like Junior Seau knew there was help for him.

Regardless of the reasons for Junior Seau’s death, what his passing has shown us is that even the toughest of the tough feel out of control and vulnerable and that sickening feeling of there being no place to go.

The truly sad part that his family and friends are experiencing is that he could have reached out to any number of people who truly loved and cared for him, but for him he was unable to seek that help simply because of who he was. It is not unlike many police officers, firefighters, troops coming back from the Gulf, and all other first responders, who have been exposed to the absolute worst experiences imaginable. In Junior Seau’s case, he was exposed to an incredible amount of concussions which many feel led to his severe depression, and ultimately, his suicide.

Junior Seau (and so many others) have a perception of being in complete control, only to find out they are out of control. The irony is that they feel as if they have nowhere to go and no one who can understand them and exactly what they are going through. I have seen it far too many times in my work at the SJPD and now as a consultant. Now that Junior Seau has killed himself, I am hoping that more men will decide to get help when they find that they are overwhelmed.

What first responders risk is the delusion that they are now, and always will be, in control of the situations that occur at work and at home. It doesn’t take much to realize that the “balance” that first responders have is so tenuous. So ultimately I am hoping that if anything “good” can come out of this horrendous tragedy involving the suicide of Junior Seau is that all of us are subject to becoming depressed and there is help. The reality is that the true courage comes in the asking for help. That’s right men, all of us can get help! You don’t have to be a professional football player, police officer, firefighter, or in the military. The only requirement is that you are a human being.

The men who I have talked to at length about the deep seeded pain they feel was truly a complicated mix of emotions. Fundamentally the men felt shame, guilt, embarrassment, humiliation, frustration, helplessness, disgrace, weakness, feelings of being overwhelmed, and anger, to name just a few. So naturally being a man’s man these kinds of emotions make you feel like you want to run out and seek help. We all ultimately realize that we need help, but then all those manly reasons begin to come into our consciousness.

But wait a minute...then you realize: “I’m the one who runs out to give help, not get it!”

Then, once again, those feelings of having nowhere to go come into your mind.

You feel like: “No one can help me.”

We will all miss Junior Seau and his ferocious style of play on the Football field and his work in the community. What we won’t miss is the complete and utter devastation his family and friends are experiencing. Perhaps what he has taught us is that we all have times in our lives when we are overwhelmed and that sometimes it takes more courage to ask for help, than to deny it. 

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