SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – ABC4 News found out Wednesday night there were three first responder suicides within the last six months.
First responders suffering from emotional stress due to the weight of the job have access to services to deal with mental health issues.
The state Critical Incident Stress Management Team is an example. The team represents the first line of defense for those public servants in need of emotional support.
However, after speaking with over 200 first responders, ABC4 News found they are reluctant to seek help when they are suffering because of confidentiality and job performance issues.
Instead, they prefer to seek help from their brothers in sisters in blue and red.
“What peer support brings in is addressing those thoughts; those emotions; and being able to normalize it so that what you’re thinking, what you experience or are going through, is normal,” said Administrative Sergeant Scott Adams with the Draper City Police Department.
Admin. Sgt. Adams created one of the first peer support programs in the state following the death of Officer Derek Johnson in 2013.
“So as this next generation comes up, they at least have that tool and hopefully we are setting a good example for our future officers to take care of each other mentally,” he said.
Doug Robison runs the peer support program at the Syracuse Fire Department.
“A mental health issue is just like a broken bone. It is just harder to see,” said Robison.
The veteran firefighter estimates he’s provided support for close to 30 firefighters in two-years since the establishment of the program.
“That’s 28 firefighters that can go home. That are more comfortable with life. That are able to get on with their careers,” he told ABC4’s Jason Nguyen.
To further help those suffering from the emotional stress of the job, Syracuse Fire brought in the Founder and CEO of the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance Jeff Dill last September.
In a crowded room full of firefighters and law enforcement personnel he asked, “How many of you have known someone that has taken their lives?”
A deputy said four, one firefighter said nine, another said one.
“These are not numbers,” Dill said. “These are the faces and names of our brothers and sisters, and the families they left behind.”
Dill says there are six factors that could spawn suicidal thoughts in first responders.
“We noticed very quickly is there is no discrimination,” he said.
Dill tells ABC4 News 60 percent of first responders will have thoughts about suicide.
He says there’s no easy fix. Normalizing and talking through difficult issues with like-minded people is a start on the mental health road to recovery.
“If we think we can deal with these issues on our own, well that is a serious error on our part,” Dill said.
ABC4 News put in 166 Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) requests to fire and law enforcement agencies. We found 24 departments have peer support programs in place, the rest seem to rely on employee assistance programs.
To see if you’re department has a peer support program or for contact information, click here.