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PODCAST: Suicide Prevention for Police & First Responders with Marla Friedman

Updated: May 3

Police clinical psychologist, Chairman of Badge of Life, international trainer, curriculum developer, and publisher on issues of mental health, Marla Friedman, PhD talks about mental health, trauma healing, and suicide prevention for police & first responders. Providing support and treatment for law enforcement officers struggling with PTSD, anxiety, and treatment-resistant depression. The importance of mental health support and suicide prevention for police, dispatchers, firefighters, ER docs, and nurses and the need to optimize education and training in promoting physical and emotional self-care. The importance of making mental health check-ins a standard best practice in order to break the stigmas attached to mental health support.

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PODCAST: Suicide Prevention for Police & First Responders with Marla Friedman Transcript

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

Hello, everyone. Welcome to this session of the Global First Responder Resilience Summit. I'm Dr. Susanne Kane-Nicol and I'm from Police Science Dr and I'm also a new lecturer in criminology and policing and investigations at Middlesex University in London, UK. 

Today, I'm interviewing the wonderful Dr. Marla Friedman. I'm going to read you a little bit about Dr. Friedman. Now, she's a Police Clinical Psychologist and Chairman of Badge of Life. She's an international trainer, curriculum developer, and creates training films for law enforcement. She publishes on issues of mental health, trauma cessation, and suicide prevention for police and other first responders. Very relevant to what we're talking about here. 

She was trained for the FBI at the National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, ICOP, FTOs and police departments with her, building a better cop and disciplined police programs. She is an adjunct faculty member at the College of DuPage Police Academy, and she has 35 plus years of clinical experience. Is fluent in sign language and serves the deaf and hard of hearing community. She is trained in offender profiling, detection of deception, and interview and interrogation Reid technique. 

She has earned her certification in investigative psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and she currently works on cold cases, missing persons, and homicide investigations. 

Very impressive bio. Welcome, Dr. Friedman. 

Marla Friedman: 

Well, thank you so much, Doctor. I appreciate you having me here today.

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

It's good to see you again because we have done a wonderful interview beforehand and we became good friends because of that. We have a lot of things in common. 

Marla Friedman: 


Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

Could you give us a bird’s eye view of what Badge of Life do? 

Marla Friedman: 

All right. Badge of Life is the national organization for mental health and suicide prevention. Now, initially, it was started for law enforcement. But I'm expanding it now. We're just launching at this point to cover all first responders. Because, really, it's the same types of issues that we're presented with. I do a lot of program development. And nothing that I’ve developed does not cross over to any other group. So I'd like dispatchers, fire, ER docs, nurses, I want everybody included in that. So, when I send someone out to train, they're covered. They can answer any questions. They can deal with any issues that might be upcoming. 

So, that's sort of the new piece is the recent launch of going more first responders and not just law enforcement. 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

And what exactly does the organization do? How does it serve its members or its target audience? 

Marla Friedman: 

So, what we do is we educate and train. We do not do therapy. I do that in my private practice. So if I get a call out from an organization, a police department, union, whoever it is, okay, we will develop programming for them specifically. I have a group of trainers that I can send out anywhere, and they will cover what's needed. 

Some departments want two hours, somewhat two days. It just really depends, and it depends what they're focused on. And so, we individualize each of those programs. So, I go up and back with their training people or chief, depending how big the department is, to make sure that we're hitting what they need. 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

And besides being the chair of that organization, what is the work that you do? 

Marla Friedman: 

So personally, I actually have a full-time practice in psychotherapy where I focus on first responders. In addition to that, I see the deaf and hearing impaired because I'm fluent in sign language and have always worked with them. I have special training certification both in investigative psychology as well as sexual health. So, I do a lot of family work with responders as well as general population. My focus is on OCD, anxiety, and I see treatment-resistant first responders who have trauma. And so, I see vets, cops, fire that have maybe been in therapy before but were not able to resolve issues of trauma. 

And so, that's a kind of a niche that I have so people will send me those officers, or firefighters, nurses, et cetera, that have not responded. Because we have to remember, everybody's a little bit different. So, we want to really focus individually. So in my practice, it's always individual. I take full history and then we build a program for them. That's what I do. 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

So, you're getting all the hard cases. 

Marla Friedman: 

Yes, you would look at it that way. However, over the years, it's increased my ability to get the harder and harder cases. And one of the things that I noticed is when I was first right out of school, I worked seven years of inpatient psychiatric. And you don't see that much anymore. So, it really didn't matter who walked into my office outpatient because it was like, “This is not light but in comparison to inpatient treatment.” 

And in the old days, you had inpatient six months a year, two years. It's not like now where you have 48 hours. Unless you're going to commit suicide, you're out. So, we could do a full program and treat them over that long period. But it gave me the experience with the worst types of psychopathology. 

In addition, I was paired with the same psychiatrist for seven years. I sat in session with him Monday, Wednesday, Friday for those seven years. I learned more about psychotropic medication than you can imagine. However, those meds are all gone now because we have the whole new group that's come out since. But to watch his process was just a gift for me to be able to do that. And the lucky part of that was I was on the deaf and hearing-impaired team, although sometimes we work with hearing as well. At that time, I wasn't even through with my doctorate. The therapist, the psychiatrist, nobody signed. 

So, our team got to do therapy. Whereas the other teams had to kind of act as technicians. So, it was just pure luck. And I appreciated every moment of it. Yeah. 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

Why is it so important you think that law enforcement and first responders, emergency workers, all those organizations learn about mental health? 

Marla Friedman: 

I think that unless they do, they are going to have people working for them that are unable to respond in time correctly, fully concentrating, do the best job they possibly can. When you're traumatized, depressed, if you have anxiety, OCD, if you have any of these other issues, if they think that's not going to interfere with performance, they're missing the bone on that. 

So to be healthy and do your job, just like in any other profession, you're going to hit those high marks. But in first responding professions, the things that they see, hear, and feel every daybreak them down little by little by little. And so, to have a therapist there that can get on board real early - I teach at the police academy as well, the very young ones. And even though I'm supposed to teach the biophysiology of trauma and identifying mental health issues on the street, I always sneak in mental health and suicide prevention because I know that's what they're going to need as well. 

And training early and often is just needed. And right now, the budgets are getting cut left and right. So, we're just doing the best we can to get in as much as we can so that they can have that on board. These are bigger jobs than people ever imagined. And we expect them to go out there with very little training. 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

And what do you think are the main barriers to better mental health in the forces, police, and emergency responders? 

Marla Friedman: 

The number one issue has always been and still is stigma. Okay? That somehow if I go for help, that shows that I have some kind of fundamental weakness, unable to process what happened to me, what I saw, heard, smell. And the fact to the matter is you can put any human in these situations, and eventually, they would break. So if we can catch them early, then we can train them in ways to manage those things. 

One of the programs that I developed and known for is Chiefs Lead The Way. And when I originally developed it, what I wanted was for chiefs to go forward the mental health check-in. And the main goal was, unlike what people think, is to develop a relationship with a mental health professional because when things go bad, someone in fire or cops, they're not going to start googling therapists. Okay? 

I have a list. It's taking me 10 years to vet 60 mental health providers that they can call me and access and I can send them to if I can't see them if I'm full. It's got to be someone that understands what the culture is like, is very specific in each of those areas.


So with the mental health check-in, number one is relationship. Number two, we used to go with voluntary. Now, we're going completely mandatory because it breaks the stigma. If everybody goes, then everybody goes. And so sometimes they go, a cop will say, “Well, what if I just sit there and I don't say anything?” I go, “I'm good with that. Come every year for three years and sit with me.” I've never had a cop who came in and didn't just open up. 

And most that come for the initial session, the check-in, they stay for therapy. Once they're in the door, then they're like, “I have a problem with my marriage, my kids got ADD.” There's all these things. I just didn't realize therapy was we were going to talk about stuff, identify problems, and then identify solutions. And within sessions, I give them what I call as the bag of tricks because I tell them, “You don't need to see me forever. I want to teach you some things that are concrete that you have with you that they're internalized. And you can use that any time. You can call me anytime.” 

And I've seen some for on and off for 10 years. But maybe I don't see them two years at a time or five years at a time, or whatever. But if they need me, they know that they can call me. 

The other thing is it's confidential. Nothing goes back to the departments. So, that was the biggest issue because they had employment assistance programs, which work within the departments. But fire officers were just not using them. They didn't trust that that information wouldn't go across to their chief. 

So at Badge of Life, we just push outside providers that are well-vetted. And the only time we ever break confidentiality is if someone's endangering themselves or someone else. But most of us are mandated reporters as well as police, and they would do the same and they understand that. 

So no report goes over and everything's private, and we've had brilliant results with them.


Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

It's interesting what you say about the stigma. That one thing, obviously, is the Chiefs Lead the Way, if it comes from the top that helps remove the stigma, if it's mandatory that helps remove the stigma. And once they've been out of their own volition or not to see you, they then start talking. So, it's interesting that as long as they don't have to do it, they've got the choice, that is always holding them back. Sometimes it just makes things easier for people when you remove the choice, doesn't it? 

But what else do you think we could do to get rid of this stigma to make it more permissible and make it more normal for people to seek a professional? 

Marla Friedman: 

I think that chiefs, if when they speak, okay, go to roll call and explain what their experience was with their mental health check-in and let them know, “Here's what happens,” because most don't know what happens in therapy. And when we're done the session, they're like, “So, we're just going to talk about stuff and then identify the problems and you're going to teach me some things?” And I go, “Yeah.” They said, “I just had different ideas about it from the movies and TV, et cetera.” 

So the chief, by standing up – and I've had chiefs who’s just been marvelous that way and will stand up. I went to train one department. I did two days there. It was a small department. He wanted me to train everybody. So, he stood up. He said, “Not only I went for the mental health check-in, I've gone to therapy. I've had psychological problems. And since I've been in therapy, I've got tools to manage those.” I mean, he was like my outstanding chief. Okay? 

And I could tell that his department respected him. He came to the training, and a lot of times the chief does not. And just highly invested, a small department, maybe 50 in the whole department. And everyone got along and just makes me feel good. We're not going to catch everybody. Clearly, we do have problems. We've got problems with suicide. So, there are people that are not going. But we're working on that. I'm not giving up hope on any of that. 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

I always find it interesting with some American police departments or agencies that they are so small and that a chief can have such a massive impact if they make a decision. And the 20 people in their departments, they do it. Here in the UK, for example, having a small force would be 2,000 police officers and 2,000 civilians. That is considered a relatively small force. So then, to have contact with the chief is very rare for the officers and for the staff. 

And I don't know if it would be that easy to trickle something down from the top. So, what would you suggest to bigger police departments who've got thousands of people? 

Marla Friedman: 

That's actually tricky because we trained at Chicago Police Department that has thousands. Okay? And we found it very, very difficult because we have an excellent program. We had research evidence-based programming that showed a department in Montreal that had a 79% decrease in suicide. 

In Badge of Life, we do everything evidence-based. That's the first time I ever saw anything to that degree. And we taught them that. And then I saw, after that, they had just about every other group in there. And then when I talked to the cops, they said, “We don't do anything they told us. We don't do anyone that the new group came in and told us to do. We don't do anything.” 

And in a huge department like that, I think they have three EAP, but no one trusts going to them. So, that's why they have such a high suicide rate. There's nowhere to go. There's nowhere to talk. They don't understand how their own bodies work and why they react a certain way in certain situations, and that it's normal. It's not a sign of weakness. It's what the body does. It's what everyone's body does in certain situations. 

So a lot of it, in addition to training, is education. 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

So, what's the problem then that there was nobody left in charge of implementing all that training and people have just moved on? And even though people were trained, nobody was making sure that it was being applied and passed down? Are you saying that for larger departments, you always need to have a key person whose responsibility it is to keep oversight and to make sure it is getting done? 

Marla Friedman: 

You do need someone at the top. And however, I don't want to get in trouble here because we had the people at the top, the very, very top and they were supportive. But they've got to make it happen. Okay? If they just listen during the training and then don't follow through - I mean I did a training where The Today show, which is a national television news show here, came and did an eight-hour recording of my whole training with the supervisors at a particular large department. Okay? 

And so, you would think the superintendent, the head of all of that would be like, “Wow, this could be something.” And we were just so hopeful. And then a year later, they didn't follow through. So, there are some departments, I think, maybe smaller, do better than larger when it comes to mental health and putting programs together. And one of the things an officer told me, he says, “You have Chiefs Lead the Way, which I love the program,” he said. But you know what? I'd rename it to Sergeants Lead the Way because, really, it's the serge that you're spending your day with, that you're getting information, you're getting orders from. That's who you're calling when you're out on the scene. It's the sergeant. In some of these departments, you don't see your chief.” And so, little late because it started 10 years ago. 

So, I could come up with a new program just changed the name a little bit. But still, I want the same goals. I want everybody educated and trained. And I want everybody to know that we're available and that we can find someone. 

The other thing is for all of us that train nationally, we all know each other. The head of safe call now and protect and serve. I mean, there are so many of them. There are probably four top ones in addition to Badge of Life. We all know each other. We're all cooperating with each other. And if I can't find somebody, I know I can call them and they'll find someone in the state that I don't have coverage for. 

And so, we've done our best as civilians to cover the spread. And some people in there are retired cops as well. So, they have information. I have cops on my vetted list who are still working as cops, have doctorates in psychology and practices on the side. That's just incredible. Okay? 

So, I got my eye on them. I got some work for them to do. I just put my letter together now because I got some stuff that I'd like them to work on. 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

Because they're not busy enough, are they? 

Marla Friedman: 

Right. Exactly. 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

They’ve got too much time on their hands. 

Marla Friedman: 

Right. But here's what I found, I went to school full-time and worked full-time – I mean, the more you do, those people just keep doing. Okay? Where some people, they don't have a lot to do and they just keep not doing anything. So, at least I'm going to put the letter out there and see who I can pull in for a project that I'm working on going forward. Yeah. 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

It's interesting what you say about they – this is the point you made earlier that the department know. And people know what they were supposed to be doing. They just weren't implementing it. I think that's a generic problem with the human psyche, isn't it? We all know we need to exercise. We all know what we should be eating, what we shouldn't be eating. We all know we should be kind to others and respectful and calm. 

And if we only had the – well, we do have the ability. But if we saw it through and actually always did what we knew we were supposed to be doing, we'd be so disciplined. We’d would be healthy. We’d be successful. We’d be accomplished. We'd have four degrees, the best jobs, and the nicest gardens and cleanest houses. But it's just always something holding us back. It's a shame that with something as vital as mental health in law enforcement and first responders, that also translates into that area.


Marla Friedman: 

It's so true. If I have a patient who's got a weight issue, whatever, I know I can send them to a dietitian. But you know what, they're 40 years old. It's not like they never heard decrease intake, increase exercise. Not that that always works either. Okay? So, to your point, it's not just the information that you have to have a plan. And people ask me, I just don't have the motivation. And I go, “I got a secret for you you're not going to like.” And they go, “What?” I go, “There's no such thing as motivation.” They go, “What do you mean?” I go, “You get motivation twice in your life. And one time, you're sleeping through it.” 

What you need is a plan. Okay? You don't ask yourself, “Do I want to do this today? Here's the plan I make. Here's what I do. I reward that behavior and then I continue on my plan.” If you don't have a plan that's specific, it's going to fail. If you're waiting just for this rush of motivation of, “I'm doing it now. Okay? I'm going to lose 40 pounds by the time the wedding comes.” And you just don't see it happening. 

So I'm like, “I don't really push that heavy.” I go, “Let's just make the plan. Let's be specific. The plan is not working. Bring it back next week, and then we'll fix it and we'll keep fixing that until it works for you.” So, I believe in individualizing every program for every person because they're different. Okay? We have human qualities that are in common. But different things will get us up to do what we need to do. 

And so, sometimes it looks silly to someone else what they write in there. I don't really care, as long as they do it. 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

Tell us a little bit more about suicide prevention, because you said that's something you teach. What exactly do you teach there? What is the content? And how does it work?


Marla Friedman: 

In terms of suicide prevention, I always say it starts early. Okay? That starts in the academy. They have to understand what feelings to watch for, how they're feeling, do not wait too long, start with the check-in right away. Because an officer that has been in a department or any department for 20 years and he's never seen a mental health specialist, it's not going to all of a sudden come up with some great ideas. He's going to be limited. He's going to think, “There's nothing left for me here.” Okay? “What are my choices?” Very of them. Okay? “I have access to a weapon, so I know a way out. I'm not feeling good.” 

And after all these years of studying research and looking at what is the cause of suicide, there are lots of variables. But when it comes right down to it, the things that I see in common over every case is just unbearable pain, emotional or physical. Those are the two things. Regardless of what causes those, those are the two things that push people over that edge. 

So, we teach techniques. I teach how to release oxytocin at will, which is the natural relaxant. I teach how to distract yourself when bad thoughts come up, because they do. All right? I teach how to put yourself in a different mind space, how to use yoga, mindfulness, all these things that are a little bit newer. I'll tell some cop, “Okay. Why don't we try yoga to see what happens?” And they're like, “Yoga? That's for girls.” I'm like, “How about Tai Chi?” They go, “Tai Chi? You mean where you get to fight and stuff?” I go, “Absolutely.” They go, “Okay, I’ll take Tai Chi.” I go, “Okay. Let’s go do it.” Well, it’s the same thing. Okay? Essentially. 

And so, they go, “Hey, I love this Tai Chi and I feel really good afterward.” I don't care what they call it and what they do. As long as they could change their internal emotional state and that they have somebody – and we'll talk a little bit more – I forgot the time, I’ll bring upon it and some other things - to build up a support system and have a peer support program so that there's people that they can talk to when they're not sure what to do. They just know they feel so low. 

However, when the depression is great, their energy is so low that it's hard to even make the call. If you're in bed three days, the chances of you calling your friends and chatting it up and getting to a point where you say, “I'm ready to be done,” is pretty slim. So, they feel like they're kind of backed in the corner and that suicide at least releases them from the pain that they're in. 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

Speaking of programs, tell us about Left Of Bang. That's something you developed. What is it and how does it work? 

Marla Friedman: 

Okay. Left Of Bang, I just absolutely love. Okay? So, I read this book and it was by Patrick J. Horne. Let me make I get his name right, because I feel bad because I took his concept. Patrick Van Horne and Jason Riley. Okay, so it's a military tactics book. So, I'm reading this book and I'm like, “This is really interesting.” And I woke up in the middle of the night, literally. And I said, “Great idea. I could translate all of this, flip it on its head and make it psychological instead of tactical.” 

So basically what it says is “bang” would be your critical incident. So, if you're a vet, and I see vets, that could be an IED going off. I hope your IED doesn't go off. That would be bad. Or whatever you choose and it comes with the worksheet. And what I said is I'm going to give that program to everybody who wants it who's watching today. Not only the program but the worksheet that goes with it. So, you would divide it up, bang is in the middle. On the left side, is all the preparation, all the planning that you would do to avoid bang. Now, you can't always avoid bang. Sometimes it happens, and then it tells you what to do on the right side of bang. 

But generally speaking, we say, “Stay away from the right side of bang. Stay on the left side.” And there are 20 different things. I mean, that just I came up with, but on the worksheet, they come up with their own. So in the bang position, they put whatever is the critical incident for them. Okay? Maybe they work internet crimes with children and they have to look at something that – well, it's horrifying what they look at, as you know. But a lot of them habituate to some of it. But sometimes there are one or two things that hits them real hard, and they can't get that out of their head. 

So, we’ve got to think of how can we look at that piece and get that out of your head because that's interfering with your functioning, with your ability to attend to pay attention and concentrate. And if you can't do those things on the job, then you're at risk. Your life is at risk, especially I'm in Chicago. So, if you're not on your toes, you're in a bad situation. So, that program hopefully – I sent it to you. Somehow they'll dispense that out with the worksheet. Everybody can have that. Anyone who's not sure how it works get back to me, and then I'll help them work it through. 

But when I train field training officers, we do it in class. And no one has to see anyone else's worksheet. They can choose whatever they want. They could be going through a divorce. Okay? And what they could do to make that easier versus what happens on right of bang, which are bad things that happen during a bad divorce. And there are no good divorces. However, there's ways to put protection in there if there's good enough planning on the left side of bang. 

So, I recommend the book and then go ahead and use that program and then call me if you need any help with it. 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

That’s very generous of you. So you're saying everybody who's watching this session can get access to that? 

Marla Friedman: 


Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

Okay. We'll see if we can put the link in there underneath this. Thank you very much for that on behalf of everyone who's going to use it. You also talk about Bring a Buddy. What's that about? 

Marla Friedman: 

Bring a Buddy, which really is so interesting to me how it turned out because I also work with federal agents. And I don't know why, somehow in my mind I thought federal agents, they're the strongest dogs on the block. However, they also see the worst crap on the block. All right? A lot of them are undercover and some of them are undercover for four years, five years longer. It's extremely difficult. They have a high level of trauma. 

So, the post-traumatic stress injury within groups that do undercover work and federal work can be extremely disturbing. So, I had an agent in the office clearly a post-traumatic stress injury for six years untreated. And I do prolonged exposure, which learned at Military I. And it's a very specific protocol, and beyond my belief, works within a week. Okay? 

So after we were done, he said to me, “You know what? My partner” – they usually work in groups. That's one thing about undercover. They have a lot of back-ups and they're very close. He goes, “I think one of my guys has this trauma like you're talking about.” I said, “Well, have him come in. Give me a call.” He goes, “He's not going to come in and see a psychologist.” I go, “He's going to suffer, instead.” So I said, “What about this? What if he came in with you and the two of you came in together? Just come in as buddies. And then I'll interview him to the level that he's comfortable, and then we'll kind of go from there. And you just sit in the session and you're kind of just his support.” And he said, “Okay. I'll ask him.” 

So, he asked him. The government actually flew him in because there's not a lot of people that do what I do. And I assessed him and his buddy sat there and I thought it was kind of cute, really, because in the middle of the session, probably 40 minutes in, I see my patient look at the new guy and the new guy looks at him eye to eye, and they sort of non-verbally say, “Are you okay?” “Yeah, I’m okay.” So, my guy left and the other guy finished the session. And then I saw him after that and he was all too strong. 

So what I talk about now is not just first responders, anybody. If you're nervous about coming to therapy, bring someone in with you. And I have some that stay for two or three sessions and I have some just stay ten minutes and just help them get in the door. So I thought, “I like this Bring A Buddy concept.” So, I just developed the program and I put it out there in a sense to give permission to people in any walk of life, because a lot of people are nervous. 

If you see a regular person outside of first responders, you know how you do, “The guy is a little bit nervous about coming today.” And they came, anyway. But what percentage don't come? Because they're nervous about coming. But would come with their best friend. So, it expands the population that can then come to therapy. And that part is brilliant that it would bring in a group that I would never see before. 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

I guess that could definitely work for some people. But I also think that for some others, that would be their worst nightmare to have someone else hear what they want to talk about. And some people need that privacy and that anonymity. Whereas others, they really would benefit from bringing someone in. So, I guess, it's good that you're offering both, aren't you? Because they can come in confidentially by themselves or with their buddy if they prefer. 

Marla Friedman: 

And the interesting part is it works both ways. Some of them, like I said, will come a couple sessions and some will just literally, after introductions and stuff, I see the sigh. When you hear that [makes a sound], then they're doing okay. And then they're like, “Okay. So, would you like him to stay or you want her to wait in the waiting room? Whatever you like.” And like, “Yeah, she's fine to wait out. We're good.” So, I put that on them. They can choose which way they want to do it. 

Just to your point, there are some things you don't want anybody to know. Okay? And the funny thing is almost all humans have something they don't want anybody to know. And my feeling is, it’s your brain. You can keep it. You can talk about it or you can keep it. You're in charge of that. 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

And let's talk about suicide numbers. What are the annual suicide numbers in law enforcement and how are those numbers uncovered? 

Marla Friedman: 

This is sort of a hot button for me, especially I've been with Badge of Life – oh boy, I don’t know, maybe 10 years. But three years as chair. When I came out as chair, I looked at how we were arriving at suicide numbers because Badge of Life was actually the first organization that started collecting suicide numbers. When I came on board, I just was a trainer. I just went wherever they told me and I train. I did not do any collection of data. Nothing. 

And so, then when I became chair, I took a look at it and I said, “You know what, we can't report these numbers. These are not accurate.” If someone says, “I got it from Facebook,” or, “my friend called,” or, “I know an officer who told me.” And I'm thinking, “I can't, in good conscience as Chairman, put these numbers out there.” 

So, my thing now is I want legislation so that there's mandatory reporting of all officer suicides. Because right now, the FBI just came out with a statement and they said, “Chiefs may report suicides.” Well, chiefs may report suicides is the same as what we have now, which is you don't have to report suicides. It doesn't help me. 

What worries me is there is actually numbers that are printed every day in the government–Washington Post, New York Time. You name it, all over, with false numbers from an organization that collects. They sort of pick up where we dropped off, realizing it doesn't work. And I don't mention who they are. I don't know about them. But I see them printed all over, quoted all over, and I just cringe. 

So right now, I'm in the process of trying to identify a legislator that would help me with the bill on the national level. I have an attorney that I'm kind of courting, because I know her and she's helped me in the past with a local bill to see if maybe she would help me. Because when I write a bill, I write it in English. 

In terms of legalese, that's above my head. So, I need someone to translate that. But unless it goes through and becomes a law, that bill has to pass. I cannot see firefighters, chiefs. I can't see people volunteering that information. They never have. They don't want to. And it's not going to happen. 

However, I feel it's disrespectful to those officers who took their lives in one-eighth of a second. They maybe had a brilliant career. Okay? And now, they're nobody. And the day after that, their family has no insurance. They lost their spouse's pension. I mean, it's horrible. I go to departments where there are walls, memorial walls of all officers that have been killed in the line of duty. 

Suicide for me is a line of duty death. It's an officer who succumbed to his injuries, to his emotional injuries. And so, maybe that's my thinking on it. And I don't want to say this because I know I get backlash. But if you look on all of those walls with the imprinted names of all those officers, you've got great officers. You've got medium officers and you've got some officers who are not so good. Nonetheless, they're all memorialized and they're all honored. 

But all of our officers that were overworked, overridden, could not manage for whatever reason and took their life, they're gone. They're ghosts. And I resent that because it's not fair. If someone had to judge me my whole life based on an eighth of a second, I could not hold up to that scrutiny. I mean, who could? And it's not fair. 

So, that's where I'm at this point is really pushing mandatory reporting. Now, ultimately, what I would like is mandatory reporting of all officer deaths because officers have 35% greater cardiac risks. Sleep shift disorder. I mean, there's a lot of issues that come with being a cop. So, we may as well get that information. 

I'm just afraid if I start there, it's going to be a little bit harder to get this ball rolling. So I thought, “Let me start with the suicide. If we could get that passed and start getting some actual numbers, then we can get some other people in who are less afraid of suicide and more interested in some of the medical issues, and maybe we could pull that in at another time. But I think it's really key. 

Right now, I feel terrible for these families because I work with families who have had a husband, a son, a brother committing suicide, and they're devastated. And in some ways, that piece will never be filled. The answers are never there. I don't know. It tears them apart when I watch them and I listen to them. Why? How? Why didn’t they call me? The guilt. The upset. It may have nothing to do with the family. We don't know what was going on. 

But I always give the example, say, you walk into your house. Obviously, it's a bad deal. You walk in and you find your wife in bed with some other guy. Okay. So if you're an accountant, you're pretty pissed off. But you don't go near her and shoot your brains out. If you're a cop with a gun and you're very upset and you have an alcohol problem, what's the likelihood that that might result in suicide? 

So they're saying, “Well, that's a domestic problem. It's got nothing to do with this.” Well, when you're a cop, your family is a cop, too. And so, it all works together. And as much as they want to tell you one is unrelated to the other, no. A cop’s family joins the police when the cop does. And they're influenced by all the things that happen there. 

So I just want people to get a different eye on it, a different understanding on it. And let's treat them earlier. Let's identify them earlier. Let's have the mental health check in every year and see if we can impact those numbers, because I can get someone in my office that are in terrible condition. 

And therapy, which I didn't invent - I wish I did, okay - works. And they can feel better and see progress and set their personal goals, and we can come up with a plan. And maybe we can avoid suicide. And maybe we could avoid a lot of them. But my guess right now is that it's greatly underreported. The reason I say it is because when I train FTOs, I train one to three a month. One to three times a month. And invariably, an officer would call me over and say, “Two years ago we had a suicide.” And when I would ask the name, this is when we were still collecting names, I was thinking, “We don't have that name on that list.” 

So, if Illinois is missing one or two names, multiply that in 50 states. So I said, “Okay. I'm not. I can't put my name on this thing anymore. What we do is something different.” 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

If people only took away one thing from this interview and all the information you've given us today, what would you want that one thing to be? 

Marla Friedman: 

I guess, I wanted to say they’re sort of twofold. Okay? That mental health needs to take its rightful place with first responders. Okay? There are some jobs that you work in an office, or whatever. You may not need a lot of mental health assistance. But by day one, that should be in the program, that the department should protect and serve their own departments. Okay? 

And number two is the way I always think is – and when I tell the FTOs, I go, “You guys are all gold to me because you're going to train the next generation of cops.” And that's how I see our cops as gold. And so, I want them to be trained, trained correctly, and not just in how to be a cop but how to take care of their physical and their emotional self. So, those are the two things that are supremely important to me. 

Susanne Knabe-Nicol: 

Dr. Marla Friedman, thank you very much for your time today. 

Marla Friedman: 

Thanks, Susanne. 



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