NH police chief: Lead detective's suicide reminds us 'we are not immune'
"We are hopeful that by not remaining silent about Jon’s death by suicide, we can honor who he truly was and encourage others to reach out for help”
By Marie Szaniszlo
NASHUA, N.H. — Police Chief Michael Carignan has gone public about his lead detective’s self-inflicted death — with an anguished statement and interviews on the crisis of cop suicide that is often kept in the dark.
Nashua police Capt. Jonathan Lehto, his department’s chief of detectives, killed himself Monday while visiting family in Seattle, Carignan said in the statement he issued with the consent of Lehto’s family. Lehto was 47.
“None of us picked up on the signs,” Carignan told the Herald Thursday. “Most people say, ‘OK, we’ll keep it quiet.’ But it was important to me to put out the message that Jonathan Lehto would be remembered for how much he touched people. And it’s important to me to get the message out that what you’re going through is normal, and there are people to talk to. There’s no stigma, no career implications for asking for help.”
In his statement, Carignan said, “The Nashua Police Department and Jon’s family acknowledge that suicide amongst law enforcement and other first responders is an epidemic. Jon’s suicide forced us to face the fact that we are not immune to this reality. We are committed to being vocal in an effort to bring attention to and make others aware of this crisis. Jon spent his career helping people. We are hopeful that by not remaining silent about Jon’s death by suicide, we can honor who he truly was and encourage others to reach out for help.”
In Massachusetts, at least 10 police officers killed themselves in 2016, eight each in 2017 and 2018, and two so far this year, according to Blue HELP, a Worcester-based not-for-profit that helps surviving family members and gathers data from them and officers’ co-workers and departments. Nationally, there have been at least 143 officer suicides this year.
“Police confront violence, death and destruction on a daily basis,” said Miriam Heyman, a psychologist who co-authored a 2018 study for the Ruderman Family Foundation that found police and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. “Mental health treatment is effective, but we live in a world that stigmatizes mental illness. So there is silence around the issue, and that prevents first responders from accessing the help they need. They should know they’re not alone. And their leadership needs to take a more proactive approach.”
Addressing Friends of the Boston Police last May, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross said one of his top priorities is preventing suicide.
“Last year, we lost seven officers and almost another eight to heart attacks,” Gross said in May. Although he was discussing suicide, he later declined to elaborate on the causes of death of the seven officers. A police spokesman declined to say how many Boston police officers have committed suicide.
Former Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said he believes police suicides have reached epidemic proportions.
“The numbers tell the story, and it’s not being addressed quickly enough,” Davis said, noting suicides have been kept private out of respect for families. “But we’re finding now, because this is such a huge problem with police and the military, that letting people know … may lift that cloak.”
With nine police suicides so far this year, the New York City Council wants to contract mental health support for NYPD officers. In Massachusetts, police officers receive suicide prevention training. A new law maintains confidentiality first responders who seek counseling.
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