US First Responders Are More Likely to Die by Suicide Than in the Line of Duty

It would seem like common sense to think that first responders – firefighters and police officers — are most likely to die while on duty, due to the unusually dangerous nature of their work. The sad reality is that they are taking their own lives at greater rates, making suicide the most common cause of death for first responders.

A study from the Ruderman Family Foundation takes a look at the statistics, finding that 93 firefighters and 129 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty during 2017, while 103 firefighters and 140 law enforcement died by suicide over the same time period.

Sadly, though, it’s highly likely the true number of first responder suicides are far greater; one estimate suggests that as many as 40 percent of firefighter suicides are not reported.

Why are so many first responders taking their own lives?

These people are routinely performing extraordinarily stressful — and, at times, traumatic — work. The Ruderman study estimates that police officers typically experience 188 “critical incidents” which fall under these categories. For many, this can foster mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Though such trauma does not always result in suicide, this type of mental illness can have an extremely negative impact when it comes to on-duty decision-making abilities — putting police, their peers and those they are tasked with helping at risk.

Despite this grave reality, first responders have limited access to mental health support services. Only an estimated 3 to 5 percent of law enforcement agencies provide suicide prevention programs.

By and large, the widespread nature of mental illness and suicide in these fields is unknown to the public. Not only are these deaths typically not a subject covered in the media, but suicides are also swept under the rug. There are monuments and community memorial services held to celebrate the lives of those lost heroically while on-duty, but this is not the case for those who take their own lives.

These issues are often brushed aside by first responders as well. In many cases, firefighter and police culture lauds emotional fortitude and internal strength, while severely stigmatizing the notion of seeking mental health help.

Were this not the case, dozens of first responder lives, and the lives of those they are tasked with rescuing, could be saved.

For immediate help if you are in a crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are confidential.

Take Action!

First responders, be they firefighters or law enforcement officers, put their lives on the line to save Americans every day. People are more than eager to show support for these brave individuals, but unfortunately that same level of support is rarely there when it comes to the emotional scarring and damage that is paired with the job.

While mental health awareness is on the rise among the general American public, this is sadly not true for first responders. These individuals and their fellow citizens need to acknowledge the danger that comes from neglected mental health and to be proactive in preventing this avoidable loss of life.

Call on Congress to make it a legislative priority to dedicate time and resources toward changing this by adding your name to this Care2 petition! First responders put everything on the line for us — it’s time we gave back in a meaningful way.

Concerned about an issue? Want to raise awareness about an injustice? Join your fellow Care2 users by learning how to make your own petition and make your voice heard today!


Photo Credit: Ken Mist/Flickr


Amanda M
Amanda M1 months ago

As a volunteer firefighter/EMT, I can definitely attest to the stuff we see! I've been doing this for over 19 years now, and I've run everything from plane crashes to suicides to car wrecks to multi-alarm fires. Sometimes when a call is especially tragic, counseling is offered to those who need it, but the last time I saw brochures at the station about such, it was from a majorly conservative Christian counseling group-everything was about their God and the proselytizing in the brochure alone was nonstop, which is not something a non-Christian member of the department wants to have to put up with on top of everything else. Needless to say, I wouldn't take them up on it. We need REAL counseling, not church-based preaching!

Mary B
Mary B1 months ago

If we valued people just because they are alive,not just when they do heroic jobs, maybe we would have a better understanding of this situation.

Chad Anderson
Chad A2 months ago


Sherri S
Sherri S2 months ago

These men and women perform stressful, emotionally demanding work every day. I'm sure it takes a toll on them. I appreciate all they do to keep up safe and believe they need more support....petition signed.

Danuta W
Danuta W2 months ago

thank you for posting

Ruth R
Ruth R2 months ago

Petition signed. More support is badly needed.

Janet B
Janet B2 months ago


Chad Anderson
Chad A2 months ago

Thank you.

David C
David C2 months ago

thanks and sadly noted

Roxana S
Roxana Saez2 months ago