Those who protect us – firefighters, law enforcement, dispatchers, EMS – have a suicide rate almost double the national adult average. Substance abuse, divorce and PTSD are also common results of mental distress. Traditionally, the practice of silence around mental health has left emergency responders extremely vulnerable.
In Colorado, three times more police officers died by suicide than other line of duty deaths combined; for firefighters, suicides outpaced other line of duty deaths by 50%.
Now, a first-of-its-kind report is available, detailing the state of mental health supports for emergency responders in Colorado. The report, by the National Mental Health Innovation Center and ResponderStrong™ is the result of a statewide survey of leaders from law enforcement, fire, dispatch and EMS departments.
The findings of the report, Taking Care of Our Own: Mental Health Among Colorado Emergency Responders, show emergency response leaders know there is a problem and want help — but face consistent barriers in addressing mental health issues.
Read the full report here: Taking Care of Our Own: Mental Health Among Colorado Emergency Responders
ResponderStrong is the first endeavor in Colorado to mobilize mental wellness efforts across emergency responder groups – fire, law enforcement, EMS and dispatch. While there are several programs to improve emergency responder mental wellness, they are typically found only in major metropolitan departments. This is the first centralized, coordinated effort to combine efforts and maximize resources for all emergency responder teams in Colorado, from rural volunteer teams to large city units. ResponderStrong is led by a team of volunteer emergency response leaders from departments across Colorado in partnership with the National Mental Health Innovation Center.
Emergency responders live with chronic exposure to stressful and disturbing events. Without preventive support, this prolonged stress can lead to anxiety, depression and PTSD. As a result, family life and social relationships are often strained. Responders’ abilities to be there for their brothers and sisters in uniform, and to protect and defend their community also can be compromised.
ResponderStrong is shifting emergency responder culture to embrace the notion that mental resiliency is vital to overall performance and wellness by:
- Providing technical assistance and training to departments to strengthen mental health programming
- Creating an easily accessible network of existing, established resources
- Building leadership efforts within each sector
- Advocating for departmental and state-wide policy change
Law enforcement, fire, dispatch and EMS teams in Colorado can find more information, including how to join this movement, on the ResponderStrong website.