After nearly four years without a single suicide in the U.S. Border Patrol, border agents are killing themselves in greater numbers. Records obtained by the Associated Press show that at least 15 agents have taken their own lives since February 2008 – the largest spike in suicides the agency has seen in at least 20 years. Few of the agents left explanatory notes. Federal officials insist the deaths have nothing to do with the agency, which has doubled in size since 2004, or the increasingly volatile U.S.-Mexico border.
Still, the agency has undertaken urgent suicide-prevention initiatives, including special training for supervisors, videos about warning signs, and educational programs for 22,000 agents nationwide. “It’s a microcosm of life,” said Christine Gaugler, head of human resources for Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the Border Patrol. “There’s no uptick. It has nothing to do with our hiring. We are just responding to the suicides that have occurred.” A 17-minute video made for employees this year is part tribute to the dead and part cautionary tale. It urges agents battling depression or stress to ask for help – a candid suggestion for an agency that once forbid agents from appearing in uniform at the funerals of colleagues who killed themselves.