The challenges that first responders take home with them each and every day, and the lasting effect those challenges have can destroy a person and make them feel like there is no hope.
They see things that no one ever wants to see or have to experience. They are going from call to call to call and that can really add up and take such a huge toll on them because they don’t have time nor do some (definitely not all) of their supervisors take the time to make sure his or her squad/people are ok with what they just saw or dealt with. And some supervisors ignore a cry for help even when they are told, as in my case.
The tragic scenes just start piling up. You think the only way to stop all the nightmares, the flashbacks, and all the other life stresses that pile up on you is to self-medicate, distance yourself from your family and the world or tap out.
Reports show that in 2017, 243 police officers, deputies, and firefighters committed suicide. There were at least 103 firefighter suicides and 140 police officer suicides. In contrast, 93 firefighters and 129 police officers died in the line of duty. Suicide is a result of mental illness, including depression and PTSD, which stems from constant exposure to death and destruction.
That is 21 more first responders dying by their own hands, than those who died while in the line of duty.
This exposure to trauma can lead to several forms of mental illness. PTSD and depression rates among firefighters and police officers have been found to be as much as 5 times higher than the rates within the civilian population, which causes these first responders to commit suicide at a considerably higher rate (firefighters: 18/100,000; police officers: 17/100,000; general population 13/100,000). Even when suicide does not occur, untreated mental illness can lead to poor physical health and impaired decision-making. (white paper study, the Ruderman White Paper on Mental Health and Suicide of First Responders)
First responders are more vulnerable to things like PTSD, substance use, depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, there's so much stigma that first responders are afraid to ask/get help or when they do try, they are considered to have a substance abuse problem or unfit for duty. All agencies have an EAP (employee assistance program) but PTSD is often overlooked or ignored by the agency because now you are a liability and they are looking out for their best interest in a lot of cases.
First responders are heroes who run towards danger every day in order to save the lives of others. They are also human beings, and their work exerts a toll on their mental health.
This stigma is what prevents first responders from coming forward and asking for the help that they so desperately need! These are folks that have given their all for their communities and agencies to protect and serve.
There is the mindset of if I ask for help, that there's some sort of weakness, I might be judged, I might lose my job, and that's just not right!
Departments should encourage or require first responders to access mental health services annually. This will enable our heroes to identify issues early and get the help that they need and deserve. It will save lives.
If you or someone you know is battling suicidal thoughts, there is help. You can call 211 at any time to speak with a support staff member at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
There is also help at The Veterans HEAT Factory which is a 12-week program that offers mental health training through one on one counseling, Modules, exercise, art therapy, yoga and many other forms of therapy to begin the road to recovery for PTSD. This can be managed, and you can overcome it!!
They will be ready to listen and direct you to available resources.