PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Jonathan Hendrickson was working on his third year as an officer with the Arizona Department of Corrections. He had served as a corrections officer in Indiana for the 12 prior years, reaching the rank of lieutenant.

[VIDEO: Wife of late AZ correctional officer thinks job contributed to his suicide]

But those years took a toll on Hendrickson, according to his wife, Shannon, who also works in corrections.

"You have to think about the toll it takes when your No. 1 priority every day is just to come home safe," said Shannon.

One day in early in October, Shannon received her last text from Jonathan, "Telling me not to open the garage door," she said.

Jonathan took his own life that day, leaving his wife in shock, but joining a long list of corrections officers across the country who died by suicide.

A 2017 study published by the University of California at Berkeley found that current and former correctional officers are at a much higher risk of suicide than the general population.

The study found that one in nine active-duty correctional officers thought about suicide. One in seven retired correctional officers thought about suicide. One in four combat veterans thought about it, but only one in 33 people in the general population considered suicide.

"I think it's the exposure to the trauma that is just in the job," said Denise Baegley, who is the manager of clinical initiatives and training at ASU's Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy.

Baegley says law enforcement officers and first responders, in general, are at a higher risk of suffering from mental health problems and suicide than those in the general population, and that the agencies that employ these people need to do a better job of putting an emphasis on mental health.

"We used to call cancer the 'C Word." And now we say, 'cancer,' and we stand up against it. We need to do that for mental health as well," said Baegley.

Mental health advocates say society is making strides. For example, life insurance companies now generally pay benefits when a policyholder dies by suicide.

But the way soldiers, officers and firefighters are honored in death varies by department.

The Phoenix Police and Fire departments offer an honor guard if the family requests one if a current or former employee dies by suicide.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety says the director looks at suicides on a case-by-case basis as does the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. But both agencies have provided honor guards for suicide deaths.

But the Arizona Department of Corrections does not.

According to the ADC Departmental Order Manual, "If a death was the result of suicide, no ceremonial honors will be rendered."

"I requested an honor guard for his memorial service immediately," said Shannon.

She says she later heard the reason.

"I have heard that it is viewed as dishonorable within the department," she said.

A spokesman for the ADC responded to a request for an interview with the director of the department.

"Our employees are the most important resource we have, and their safety and well-being is always a top priority. The sudden, tragic loss of a coworker is a terrible and traumatic event that the department and our employees mourn. Support is available in this case and in many other critical circumstances," said Bill Lamoreaux, who is the ADC media relations administrator.

Lamoreaux said the department does not track employee suicides and that the director was not available for an interview because he has been visiting the state prison complexes.

Several corrections officers attended Jonathan's funeral, wearing their uniforms. But there was no honor guard.

The acting director of the department emailed Shannon, stating, "The men and women of the Arizona Department of Corrections will continuously honor Officer Hendrickson and all our comrades laid to rest by wearing the badge every day, showing up in correctional facilities across the great state of Arizona in contribution of making Arizona communities safe."

Shannon says she wants to see a change in the honor guard policy.

"Any time we can remove some of the stigma for suicide or mental illness, we should. We're in a day and age now where this is part of the conversation. We have to keep talking about it," said Shannon.

Morgan Loew's hard-hitting investigations can be seen weekdays on CBS 5 News at 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.
 
 


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