MADISON, Wis. - First responders deal with life-and-death situations far too often and the cumulative effects of that can be detrimental to their mental health.
“When it is a daily basis of death and dying and illness, those are calls that kind of accumulate and those stresses accumulate over time,” said Jeff Matcha, EMS program director at Madison College and a paramedic for the last eight years.
The impact of that can be seen in the results of a survey of more than 4,000 first responders, showing 6.6 percent had attempted suicide. That is more than 10 times the rate for the general population, according to an article published in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services.
For too long, the issue was not talked about in the first responder community.
“We were taught to give help, don’t ask for help,” said Jeff Dill, founder of Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance.
The Arizona-based nonprofit organization promotes better mental-health care for first responders.
Dill believes changes need to begin with training of first responders to include a behavioral health component.
Through his organization, he encourages a 12-point program that includes chaplain programs, changes to department policies and guidelines, family member assistance and extended care for retirees.
The issue of post-traumatic-stress disorder for first responders is similar to that of military veterans.
“Absolutely, and again it was not a topic that was ever discussed. Mental health in general in our society is one of those things that aren’t discussed,” Matcha said.
“It is OK to feel these stresses. Everybody goes through bad calls. Everybody may go through these dark periods. Seek help,” Matcha said.
For more information about the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, visit its website at: http://www.ffbha.org/