First responders talk ending stigma around suicide and mental health support

September is suicide prevention awareness month
KKTV 11 News at 4 (Recurring)
Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 6:05 PM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Firefighters and police are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The issue goes beyond police and firefighters. According to the same CDC report, EMS providers are 1.39 times more likely to die by suicide than the public. Researchers have found telecommunication workers for dispatch centers often experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, but research specific to that group is described as “lagging” in the above linked report.

Colorado Springs police and firefighters are working to end the stigma around discussing mental health and suicide concerns in their agencies.

“It’s okay to not be okay,” said Sgt. Jason Newton with CSPD. “For far too long we’ve had this stigma around mental health and we haven’t addressed it. Hopefully now the culture is trying to make that shift.”

Newton says, there are various support options available, free, to CSPD officers.

“We have officers that do yoga, meditation, mindfulness training, or counseling ... We have a really good funding source through grants, so all this is free for our officers and their families.” He went on to explain new counseling resources for officers’ families begin next week.

Newton hopes sharing his own story helps other officers.

“As a supervisor, I will share my story about how counseling really benefited me. It helped me in my career, it helped my wife and I go through some really difficult times in our life,” He said. “It makes you connect even deeper with a community member. If they are going through a tragedy and you have gone through a tragedy yourself, you can connect a little bit deeper and it helps us become better cops.”

Colorado Springs Firefighters also are working toward more mental health awareness. They have a peer support program, where some firefighters are coached by the department psychologist on how to spot warning signs in others and be an attentive listener.

John Giacoma is one of CSFD’s peer supporters. As a prior combat veteran in the military, he knows that gruesome scenes can have an impact.

“The shootings, the stabbings, the cardiac arrests, rescues that don’t go the way we want, those are the more acute things that we run that might cause pervasive thoughts, or nightmares,” he said.

He encourages not being afraid to ask someone if they’re contemplating suicide if that’s something you suspect.

“Have courage and don’t be afraid to ask the question ... If that’s something that they’re really contemplating, or if there’s a plan in place, or if that’s where their mind is, then that’s something we need to take different steps with,” Giacoma said.

If you or someone you know is a first responder seeking mental health resources, you can text BADGE to 741741, free and confidentially. Click here for more information.