Study shows impact of first responder jobs on mental health

An EMT in Thomas County took his own life just two weeks ago.

It’s part of a bigger problem — a recent study found first responders are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.

Many people don’t realize first responders carry the weight of a traumatic event on their shoulders, and sometimes it’s too much to bear. Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Ben Gardner had that experience recently.

Gardner is known for showing his fun side on Twitter — but in a January post following a crash that killed a 19-year-old woman, he tearfully showed first responders don’t leave their work at the scene.

Mission Township Fire Chief Forrest Walter knows all about it.

“There’s certain things that trigger me to remember a scene, I had a bad car wreck it was a double fatality a female was burned pretty bad and just that smell of that scene,” Chief Walter said.

A study from the Ruderman Foundation found 103 firefighters and 140 police officers died by suicide in 2017, compared to 93 firefighter and 129 officer line-of-duty deaths.

“I think that’s one of the big things with first responders is what they see on a daily basis, the death, the tragedy, and some of the ghoulish scenes that they see and I think every first responder has something they’ll remember their whole entire career .” AMR Operations Manager Jon Antrim said.

While suicide among first responders seems to be becoming more prevalent, Chief Walter says it’s also just become more known.

“In our industry, it was something we kind of hid from the mental health of firefighters it was taboo to talk about it,” Walter explained.

Time has provided a culture shift according to Lt. Tyler Abernathy with the Mission Township Fire Dept.

“We had to put something in place for these young kids who come in and know this is what they want to do we have to help them survive this job both mentally and physically,” Abernathy said.

First responders can now find support through websites, peer-to-peer conversations, and education and intervention through the 10-33 program.

Some local first responders also have a fluffy form of stress relief, a golden doodle named Stryker.

“I mean he’s just a giant fluff ball. He runs to them and they sit down and play with him and hold him and sometimes he rough houses with the employees if that’s what they like, other times he just likes to cuddle and give loves.” Antrim said.

No matter the method – the importance of coping cannot be overlooked.

“When people keep this bottled up it becomes so festered up at times that there’s an exploding point there’s a tipping point and just what we see and what we do has to be dealt with emotionally,” Chief Walter said.

If you or someone you know needs help the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

For more resources on suicide prevention just click here.


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page
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