ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. – Following the deaths of two St. Lucie County deputies from suicide, Sheriff Ken J. Mascara on Wednesday said that law enforcement is faced with mental health challenges that must be better recognized.
Deputies Clayton Olsteen and Victoria Pacheco died days apart and leave behind a 1-month-old son, the sheriff’s office said.
Olsteen attempted to take his own life on New Year’s Eve and died Sunday, Jan. 2, when his family made the decision to remove him from life support, according to a news release. On Wednesday morning, Pacheco “took her own life in the wake of Deputy Osteen’s death,” Mascara said.
“While is it impossible for us to fully comprehend the private circumstances leading up to this devastating loss, we pray that this tragedy becomes a catalyst for change, a catalyst to help ease the stigma surrounding mental well-being and normalize the conversation about the challenges so many of us face on a regular basis,” Mascara said in the news release. “Words cannot express the tremendous loss we all feel after losing these two members of our family.”
Mascara said that the stresses felt by law enforcement are sometimes very challenging and asked that people remember that “they’re human just like us.”
“As sheriff, I saw these two deputies as young, ambitious, and a great compliment to my already amazing group of professionals,” he said.
News 6 checked in with Central Florida law enforcement agencies in June on the topic of mental health. Lake Mary Police Chief Michael Biles said that some changes had been made to help officers cope with high stress, such as regular group yoga classes, weekend walks and pet visitations to the police department.
“We talked about physical wellness in this industry, but mental wellness is equally as important,” Biles said.
According to Blue H.E.L.P., a website that tracks the number of suicides among law enforcement and first responders in the absence of a relevant national database, a combined 176 police officers, sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers reportedly died from suicide in 2020 in the U.S., with 150 such deaths recorded in 2021.
Mascara encouraged anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide to call 211 or to contact the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255.