Suicide by Cop – A Mental Health Crisis

Bernadette Joy Graham,
Licensed Mental Health Therapist

A Mental Health Moment

Suicide by Cop – A Mental Health Crisis

By Bernadette Joy Graham, MA, LPC, NCC, Licensed Mental Health Therapist
The Truth Contributor

According to the National Center of Health Statistics there has been a 33 percent increase in rates of suicide by cop just from 1997 – 2017.  Since the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of suicide overall have exponentially increased. For many individuals, completed suicide as well as suicide attempts may seem ridiculous and unfathomable. Yes, life can be challenging on any given day but for other individuals who struggle with emotional and mental instability or experience an extreme life event it can feel as if life just is not worth living.

I first heard the term suicide by cop while in graduate school studying to become a mental health therapist over 20 years ago.  This is not a new phenomenon and has been happening across all races, ages and geographical locations.  Suicide is taken very seriously by mental health providers and is asked upon assessments and explored if an individual has a family history of suicide or even verbalizes phrases such as “sometimes I just don’t want to be here, or I have no reasons to live.”

Recently, in July of this year in Toledo, 50-year- old Michael Clifton was fatally shot by law enforcement as 53 rounds were fired as he was deemed a threat by walking down Monroe Street with a handgun first pointing it at his head and then toward officers who first made attempts to de-escalate the situation.  Clifton, a Michigan native, reported by various local news media had recently lost his son this past March, was a husband and father to a 10-year-old daughter.  His wife reported to media that he had been struggling with mental health issues after the death of his son and was admitted to St. Charles Hospital and later released.

This one isolated and unfortunate event has ended a man’s life and left a widowed wife, fatherless daughter and a loss to many friends and family. This event has also affected the lives of law enforcement who had to make a swift and most difficult decision to do what they are trained to do…keep the public safe.

With any suicide, we all ask what could have been done differently to have prevented this incident.  What I did learn during my graduate education about suicide is never underestimate anyone’s intent to harm themselves as sometimes the happiest people we know end their lives, and just because someone says “yes I’m okay” is not a sure call to check that box of no intent to harm.  Also, while we may want to blame someone or something like lack of care or who dropped the ball, it will not change the course of history.

Take a mental health moment……really take one for yourself, friends and loved one’s.  The mental health care system is not perfect, law enforcement is not perfect there is more to learn and protocols to change but until we are all honest about our mental health, suicide statistics both self- inflicted and by cop will continue to rise causing more loss of people who needed help.  People in crisis don’t stop feeling unstable at 4 or 5 p.m. to be told call back tomorrow or we cannot see your for at least six months.

A permanent solution to a temporary problem is not the answer and while losing a child is permanent or anyone for that matter, the pain and emotional turmoil can be handled.  If you have thoughts or feelings of suicide or have a loved one struggling, remove any weapons from the home or their possession even with the help of law enforcement.  Go to the nearest emergency room, call 911, utilize suicide apps or phone numbers.

First and foremost, if you or a loved one is struggling today, without any help it will only escalate from bad to worse.  Prevention is much more viable than intervention. None of us are exempt from life challenges.  Suicide is selfish because you will hurt more than just yourself.  At the age of 14, my mother died suddenly in her sleep from heart failure, I wanted to die and even had a plan.  By the grace of God, I made a vow that I would dedicate my life to helping others who felt that relentless pain of losing a loved one.  Use your pain to lessen that of others, that I did not learn in graduate school, I learned it through a personal and unfortunate life challenge….sometimes they do serve a purpose, mine allowed me to find mine.

Rest in Peace Mr. Clifton….. “The reality is that you will grieve forever.  You will not get over the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it.  You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered.  You will be whole again but you will never be the same.  Nor should you be the same nor would you want to….Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


Suicide help: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (24 hrs) 800-273-8255 (they even have a chat) 

Suicide Apps – Suicide Safety Plan
                         Stay Alive
                         Suicide Safe by SAMHSA

Bernadette Graham is a Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselor, National Certified Counselor and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist. She is also a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist assisting with weight loss, smoking and other behavior changes. Provide feedback or reach out at  For appointment information please call 419.409.4929 (Telehealth is available for ongoing and new clients at this time as well as in person appointments available on Tuesdays and Fridays only). Office location is 3454 Oak Alley Ct. Suite 300 Toledo, OH 43606