A US Customs and Border Protection suicidologist said the crisis at the border with Mexico does not appear to be the cause of the high number of employee suicides. Instead, he attributed the issue to various factors, such as management status and relationship problems.
Dr. Kent Corso, who works in the risk management and behavioral safety division of US Customs and Border Protection, said that although the employees might talk about the border conditions as a contributing factor to the increasing number of suicides, it's not the cause. Instead, he said that the crisis might have triggered more work-related issues.
Fourteen federal law enforcement officers and agents have committed suicide since January, tying the record for the most number of such deaths in a single year.
Some have suggested that the crisis at the border is the cause of the increasing number of suicides. In response to the growing number of illegal immigrants entering the country, various federal agencies, including the Border Patrol, have been working overtime to address the issue.
According to Dr. Corso, the agency's approach to addressing the issue has revealed the scientific basis for its findings.
In November, three Border Patrol agents committed suicide. According to Dr. Corso, the agency determined that the incidents were triggered by relationship problems.
In response to a question during a Zoom call, Dr. Corso confirmed that the most recent suicides were related to relationship issues.
He said that other lesser factors, such as depression and substance abuse, could also be contributing factors to the increasing number of suicides. Work stress was the last choice.
As a non-military federal employee, Corso became the first suicidologist in the agency last year. During his first year, he met with the agency's 60,000 employees, including many of those at the US-Mexico border.
Through a scientific approach, the agency is trying to determine why supervisors are more prone to committing suicide. He said the agency is also conducting a study to find out what factors contribute to this issue.
According to data released by US Customs and Border Protection, the number of suicides peaked in 2009 before dropping to 2007 levels. However, since the agency has grown significantly over the years, the number of suicides this year has made up a smaller portion of the workforce than in the past.
In addition to conducting studies, the agency also launched a two-pronged approach to addressing the issue of employee mental health. First, it aims to help employees identify their problems and resolve them before they reach a point of no return.
One of the agency's main initiatives is to educate employees about the importance of seeking help. According to Corso, this is done by educating them that the agency will not just fire them. Instead, it will “just support them.” He added that the agency is also trying to de-stigmatize the idea of seeking help for various issues, such as financial problems.
Through a budget of $23 million, the agency was able to hire 13 psychologists and 40 clinicians at its facilities to help employees identify their problems and get the help they need. Five psychiatrists have also been hired to support the program.
Although the number of clinicians has been hired, Corso did not know how many of them are actually working. Mental health workers are not allowed to diagnose or prescribe medication to their patients.
The agency has also created a response plan that aims to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future. This is done through the implementation of a postvention strategy.
The goal of the postvention strategy is to minimize the impact of the loss on the family and friends of the victims. It also aims to prevent contagion, which occurs when a person takes their own life.
A team composed of clinicians, psychologists, chaplains, and peer support will immediately reach the area where the incident happened. They will then provide objective assistance to the victims' families and friends.
Although he did not believe that the three suicides that occurred in November were connected to a contagious disease, Corso noted that there is still a possibility that a point cluster might have occurred. He explained that the CDC uses this type of research to look into other cases, such as COVID. The agency is still trying to determine if there is a link between the incidents and a higher likelihood of suicides in the same area.
In September, Corso started a monthly podcast for CBP employees to talk about their problems and stress. Since then, the agency has posted 18 podcasts. In addition, the agency has also launched several social media campaigns.
According to Corso, if the agency's employees are not paying attention to the changes happening in the organization, they might not be accepting the genuine support that they are receiving.
Despite the various initiatives that have been implemented to improve the agency's mental health services, Corso noted that it is still difficult to implement effective measures.
Despite the various initiatives that have been implemented to improve the agency's mental health services, Corso noted that it is still difficult to implement effective measures. He said that the goal of achieving zero suicides is not feasible. He added that the agency is motivated to continue to bend the curve in an attempt to reach this objective.
The preceding is a summary of an article that originally appeared on Washington Examiner.