First responders embrace mental health awareness outlets

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KBSI)- When it comes to handling trauma on the field, first responders are at the top of the list.

Emergency responders see horrific daily scenes and seeking help for their mental health wellness has become a top priority for the plethora of public service agencies.

“We’re starting to struggle or we’re carrying too much of a burden. We’re not going to be the best help for the community. These programs help us slow down, they help us think about things, and help remind us that there is help and there’s no problem getting it. [It] makes you a better officer when you get the help you need,” said Cpl. Ryan Droege of the Cape Girardeau Police Department.

To name a few of those programs, starting with the peer support team, where fellow first responders can reach out to each other.

“You’re reaching out to a fellow officer who you’ve been working and serving with however many years you’ve been here. So, it’s someone you know and trust. It’s a great entry point into getting help,” said Droege.

Along with police, mental health awareness for fire fighters proves just as vital.

“We’re going [to] see different things with suicide, overdoses, traumatic incidences, car accidents, and death. A lot of that, but we’re human just like everyone else,” said Cape Girardeau Fire Chief Randy Morris.

So, exactly who is the individual responsible for the mental health and well being of those who serve and protect us?

Jody Petzoldt is a licensed professional counselor, a certified first responder counselor, and the assistant clinical director at Great Oak Counseling.

“It doesn’t have to be as bad as it gets sometimes. That there is hope and a way to feel, peace at the end of a shift,” said an emotional Petzoldt.

So, how integral is Petzoldt to the overall well being of those affected by mental health?

Droege didn’t hesitate or mince words.

“She’s a big help for us in getting access to any kind of care or programs we might need,” he said.

The Center for Disease Control and prevention says even given the high number of suicides, these deaths among first responders are likely under reported.

The Supplemental Research Bulletin focuses on mental health and substance use (behavioral health) concerns in first responders.

It is estimated that 30 percent of first responders develop behavioral health conditions including, but not limited to, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as compared with 20 percent in the general population.

In a study about suicidality, firefighters were reported to have higher attempt and ideation rates than the general population (Stanley et al., 2016). In law enforcement, the estimates suggest between 125 and 300 police officers commit suicide every year (Badge of Life, 2016).

“I see the gap, and I really have been welcomed into the community and through that in going to the first responders and being in their world first. Letting them know, I’m not just a therapist. I see you … and then they know where they can go when the problem comes. Because it will.”

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