First responders are the heroes of the community. They put their lives on the line to save others. However, staggering numbers show our first responders are more likely to die by taking their own life than in the line of duty.
The study was released as the Schoharie community continues to grieve the loss of 20 people in a horrific limo crash. The images from the scene will likely be replayed in the minds of first responders for months and even years to come, according to retired police captain John Cooney.
“With our local horrific tragedy that we’re dealing with, we need to make sure that the initial effects of the stress doesn’t get buried,” he said.
Cooney says PTSD among first responders is five times higher than the average person. Numbers show only about 40 percent of firefighter suicides are actually reported, nearly doubling the estimated deaths. However, don’t speak up, until it's too late.
“We still haven’t broken the mindset of ‘I can’t show weakness,’" said Cooney.
It’s a problem Cooney says he experienced himself, because help wasn’t always available. According to that same study, less than 5 percent of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country have a suicide prevention program.
“[Let's] make it easy for them to use that information without needing them to announce to the entire roll call, ‘by the way, I’ll be missing three hours to go see my psychologist,’” he said.
Tom Daley helps run the Office of Mental Health Services in Schoharie County. After the crash, the office immediately made crisis counselors available for first responders. However, Daley says they're not getting a ton of calls.
“I hope in Schoharie that [first responders] do reach out. We’re not saying, ‘come out and be in therapy for the long term.’ We’re saying, ‘be in therapy as long as you need,’” he said.
Daley says it doesn’t always have to be a professional — sometimes just speaking to a loved one can be enough. While first responders must continue to answer the calls, Cooney says it’s important the community doesn’t allow them to suffer in silence.
“If there’s to be some light at the end of the horrible tragic tunnel, it’s going to be that the community is going to awaken to the needs of first responders,” he said.
To reach out to the Schoharie Mental Health Clinic, call (518) 295-8336.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.