Today, we have the honor of shining the spotlight on the often veiled but incredibly significant issue of first responder suicide. Our recent podcast, "Crackin' Backs," hosted an exceptional guest who has grappled with this grim reality first hand - Mike Marotta.
Marotta, an Airforce veteran who later served the San Antonio PD for 16 years, stepped away from the force when the values he held close started to diverge from those around him. Today, he is on a mission with First H.E.L.P to shed light on the rising cases of first responder suicides and drive change on a larger scale.
A significant challenge with first responders is the culture. We perceive them as tough, infallible heroes we run to in times of crises. However, they, too, are human and, at times, broken. In just six months, Marotta witnessed the tragic loss of six friends and coworkers to suicide, a reality that spurred his decision to challenge the culture more aggressively.
Addressing Suicide Contagion
In his enlightening conversation, Marotta discusses 'suicide contagion,' a phenomenon wherein the risk of suicide dramatically increases among those left behind when a member of a close-knit group, such as a department, team, or family, commits suicide. Since 2016, we have been averaging 200+ suicides in law enforcement and first responders per year, and some data suggest this number may be higher.
The Power of Vulnerability
Marotta credits a transformative TED Talk by Dr. Brene Brown, centered on Shame and Vulnerability, with changing his life. Recognizing that it's a sign of strength to acknowledge shame and vulnerability, Marotta turned inward and began to work on himself, resulting in improved relationships with his friends and spouse.
Risk and Prevention
When are first responders most at risk of suicide? The answer is sobering: 15 years into service. So, how can we mitigate this risk? One solution lies in fostering bonds between new recruits and veteran officers. Marotta cites Dr. Kevin Gilmartin's book "Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement Officers" to stress the importance of mental modeling in the first five years of service, setting recruits up for mental success or potential trauma.
On "Defund The Police"
When it comes to the controversial term "defund the police," Marotta advocates for a 'shift' rather than a 'cut' in resources. The focus should be on cultivating mental skills over technical know-how. As Robert F. Kennedy aptly put it in the 70s, "every community has a police force it deserves."
The Role of Healthy Relationships
Marotta highlights the sanctuary of marriage and the importance of healthy home relationships in creating better officers. With first responder divorce rates at a staggering 80% compared to the national average of 50%, he firmly believes in cultivating home relationships and integrating them into the department's culture.
A Vision for the Future
Despite the challenges, Marotta remains hopeful and even wants his son to join law enforcement. His vision is to restore the profession to a generational one, passing down positive skills to the next line. He concludes with sage advice for all: spend your initial mornings with yourself, working on healing from within, and talk to your younger self.
After all, "you can't pour from an empty cup."
Join us in this essential conversation as we navigate through these sensitive issues with Mike Marotta.
Remember, it's okay NOT to be okay.
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