Organization saving lives of police officers dealing with stress, depression

Published On: May 30 2014 11:15:00 PM EDT
Updated On: May 30 2014 11:48:33 PM EDT

On average 125 officers nationwide commit suicide; almost as many as killed in the line of duty. Badge of Life helps officers struggling with depression and stress.

ORLANDO, Fla. -

Many of us take it for granted that when something awful happens, we run away from it and police officers run right into it.

"We're paid to protect people, and everyone has a bad day but we don't want a cop walking around that's having a bad day and doesn't know what to do. That's a dangerous situation. in my opinion that's a time bomb," said Sgt. Mark DiBonna who runs the Central Florida chapter of Badge of Life.

Almost as many officers take their own lives every year, as are killed in the line of duty.

DiBonna knows that pain and suffering and has dealt with suicidal thoughts himself.

"I pushed all that aside. All Ii worried about was my job and how bad it was. I refused to get help. 00 and when i was sitting in my patrol car that night, I actually put the gun in my mouth. and i was going to squeeze the trigger and something in my head said what are you doing, why are you doing this, is it really that bad," said DiBonna.

[WEB EXTRA: Get more information on Badge of Life]

In a very frank conversation, DiBonna explained to Local 6’s Erik Von Ancken how close he came to suicide.

DiBonna was depressed, stressed out, and overwhelmed with the gruesome, awful, chaotic tragedies he and so many other law enforcement officers must face every day. And the worst part, he says he didn't know where to get help.

"The reason I hid it from my department is because I was scared. I was afraid they were going to say, ‘Mark DiBonna's crazy, we need to take away his gun. You're not longer a cop.’ I’ve been a cop since I was 21 years ago, greatest job in the world," he said.

That's when he went back home to Boston and his law enforcement brothers up there, sent him to Badge of Life, a national organization, run by law enforcement, with a 24-hour hotline, and around the clock access to counselors who walk struggling police officers through every step of getting better.

Another police officer who spoke to Von Ancken was also close to suicide.  Local 6 hid his identity because he's still concerned about what people might think.

“My wife would jump to, 'Are you going to hurt yourself if I leave you alone?' because I'd tell her, 'Don't bother me,'" said the officer.

Just in time, he found someone, and something, he trusted; DiBonna and Badge of Life in Central Florida.

DiBonna says he believes the organization can and has made the difference between life and death.

He says 125 police officers take their own lives every year around the country. In Florida in 2012 8 officers committed suicide.

That's why he now teaches young recruits, at the police academy, that there is a place to get help and through badge of life, he connects them, and his fellow officers, with that potentially life-saving help. It was, for him.

“I would be gone. I wouldn't be sitting in this chair,” he said stoically.

While every law enforcement agency has its own internal employee assistance program, DiBonna says he felt comfortable with Badge of Life, because it's external, not affiliated with any police agency and he was very concerned about keeping his problems, private.

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