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First responders in focus during Suicide Prevention Week

Lynette Adams
Created: September 09, 2019 06:59 PM

This week marks Suicide Prevention Week. 

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the USA, but it is the leading cause of death among emergency responders.

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This year to date, 142 police officers have taken their own lives, as have 65 firefighters and 13 Emergency Medical Technicians, according to Blue H.E.L.P.

"It hurts me more than it shocks me," said Dan McGuire of CISM Perspectives.

McGuire spent years working as an EMT. Now, he teaches emergency responders how to take care of themselves and manage all that they will face on the job as the president of Critical Incident Stress Management Perspectives. 

McGuire never thought, however, that the advice and help he gives would not be enough to save a longtime friend and former colleague.

James Bucci Jr. was the Executive Deputy Chief at CHS Healthcare. In May, he took his own life.

McGuire says some lessons have been learned. 

"The leadership has gotten out in front of this and talked very openly about this,” he said. 

“[This] has pushed the fact that if you need something talk to one of our leaders, talk to your peers, we don't care who you go to... just ask, because we want you with us."

The statistics are startling, and show emergency responders are not immune to many of the things that keep them employed. Often, that is added to the daily traumas they experience on the job. But often it's not so easy to get help when you wear a uniform.

"There's a stigma attached to it," said Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan. "Officers don't want their peers to know they're seeking mental health assistance, they don't want their supervisors to find out."

Phelan says this is a taboo subject among police officers. Yet he says the men and women in blue are in trouble.

"Police officers face a lot of trauma," said Phelan.

Over time, he says that can turn into mental health problems. But with a stigma that you're weak if you seek help, he says the number of suicides will continue to increase. 

"That's something that we really need to change in law enforcement, and that's kind of the change that I'm trying to spearhead and make it possible for officers to seek help or just provide them with that help automatically," he said.
Phelan is making changes within his own department and hopes it serves as a model for other law enforcement agencies.

One of the changes, may be requiring officers to have a mental health checkup once a year. 

Blue H.E.L.P.'s website offers a hotline, a text message for emergency responders in trouble, and more resources.  Blue H.E.L.P. also is  on Facebook.  


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