The mission we ask our first responders to meet carries so much responsibility. Run toward a fire, or through a dark alley. Comfort when there is nothing else that can be done. Carry the smells and the sounds, then compartmentalize feelings before arriving at the next scene.
We understand scenes of mass shootings are a carnage beyond most training and experience. The daily mission and the predictable reflection are causing an overwhelming negative impact on too many first responders. These encounters, which play out over and over in quiet moments, are taking more lives than on-duty deaths, and not just by a small margin.
A recent white paper issued by the Ruderman Family Foundation analyzed the dis-organized reporting and data of suicides among law enforcement and fire rescuers and concluded a significantly increased risk for and prevalence of suicide, depression, addiction and PTSD, as compared to the general population.
Barriers to seeking help center around stigma resulting from real or perceived professional consequences and a lack of public awareness of the crisis.
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But things are changing. National leadership of the professions have begun efforts to raise awareness, attempting to overcome barriers to accessible mental health support, creating data driven best practices for supportive assessments, and trying to tear down the cultural barriers which equate needing help with weakness.
The city of Boston, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, both in terms of first responders seeing war-theater carnage and the aftermath for those pursuing the terrorists, is reportedly leading the nation in best practices.
We must support our first responders, not only with the righteous accolades for heroism we popularly associate with the patches and badges, but with real and analytical understanding of what they endure, access to meaningful mental health resources and a cultural shift to protect them from the very mission we ask them to accomplish each day. We owe them nothing less.
Mike Ryan, mayor,