After wife’s suicide, Va. state trooper struggled, sought help

WASHINGTON — The road to healing after his wife Nicole’s suicide hasn’t always been a straight line for Steve Mittendorff.

In April 2016, Mittendorff’s wife Nicole — a Fairfax County, Virginia firefighter — died by suicide.

Soon after Nicole’s death, Steve Mittendorff and Nicole’s sister, Jennifer Clardy Chalmers spoke exclusively with WTOP about Nicole’s suicide, and the question of whether online bullying played a role in her death.

While Mittendorff returned to his position as a Virginia State Police first sergeant, he has, at times found it difficult to live without Nicole — and has considered taking his own life.

“I have more good days than I do bad days, but I still struggle,” Mittendorff told NBC Washington.

Mittendorff is one of several local first responders sharing their stories in a video that the Fairfax County Police Department is playing at roll calls, to encourage officers to seek help when they are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, anxious or suicidal.

According to NBC, more first responders die from suicide than from the day-to-day dangers of their jobs.

Steve Mittendorff has never shared the details of the suicide note Nicole left in her Mini Cooper,  when she parked at the Whiteoak Canyon Trail parking area in Shenandoah National Park.

“It was very clear that she was there to hurt herself. It was very clear cut that that would be her last letter to anybody, and that would be her last form of communication,” he told NBC 4.

Shortly after her death, Mittendorff hadn’t fully grasped what life would be like without his wife. They were approaching their fourth anniversary when Nicole died at age 31.

“After the funeral, after everyone had left, it really became very, very hard for me,” Mittendorff said, wiping tears from his eyes. “I had never thought about taking my life before, but I just wanted to be with my wife.”

“The difference between Nicole and I was that I could see, in my mind, all of my family and friends,” said Mittendorff. He could envision how his suicide would pain them, “because I can see the effect firsthand, of how Nicole’s suicide had affected us all.”

Afraid of how he was feeling, Mittendorff decided he needed to speak with a mental health professional.

“I think I bawled my eyes out when I realized I needed to go get help,” he said. “Like anyone, I was worried, ‘How is this going to affect me at work, what do I have to disclose, what do I not have to disclose?'”

After reaching out, Mittendorff began to see hope.

“I don’t regret the decision of going to see a counselor,” Mittendorff said. “I joke in the video it’s the one hour every other week that someone actually sits and listens to me.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline telephone number is 800-273-8255.

Watch the NBC Washington interview with Steve Mittendorff: 

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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