By Anna Herod
When the lights on emergency vehicles are turned off and first responders go home, they are often left to cope with traumatic situations they witnessed in the line of duty on their own.
Citizens count on first responders to help in urgent situations, but those who offer emergency services may feel there is no one to help the helpers.
On March 1, the Kyle City Council unanimously approved a resolution to recognize and support the Code Green Campaign, an initiative created to provide mental health resources to first responders. Its goal is to eradicate the stigma that sometimes accompanies requests for mental help in the industry.
“(The council members) went out of their way to support an initiative to help the police, fire and EMS in the community,” said Kyle Fire Chief Kyle Taylor. “Basically, in relation to some calls we’ve had recently that have been pretty tough on responders, I think it was pretty good timing by the city to spread some light on the issue of mental health for the first responders.”
District 5 council member Damon Fogley, who is also a first responder, said he brought the resolution forward because the campaign has made important accomplishments in the mental health field across the country for emergency officials. The list includes EMS, fire and police department members.
Fogely said he didn’t only bring the resolution to the council to give recognition, but to initiate a culture where the city takes care of its first responders.
“We have a lot of tragic and violent situations in the community that we see on a daily basis,” Fogely said. “You’re expected to go home and see your family, and go about your life as if nothing happened, in many cases. There’s sort of a stigma associated with first responders seeking out mental health resources, so a part of this is trying to erase that stigma and use some of the resources that are out there.”
Initiatives such as the Code Green Campaign are helping to break down the stigma, Taylor said.
“I think in the past there has been (a stigma),” Taylor said. “I think (awareness is) getting out there better, and leaders in the departments are starting to recognize that they need to provide more help to their employees. It’s a good initiative that I think will help a lot of emergency services.”
A few years ago, Fogely said he knew two call workers who took their own lives because of mental health issues they had. He believes if they had more resources available, the suicides could have been prevented.
Suicides are not uncommon among first responders, according to data collected by Code Green.
In the U.S., there were 50 percent more suicides among EMS personnel and firefighters in 2014 than there were the year before, said Fiona Campbell, Code Green spokesperson. In 2013, 109 fire and EMS responders committed suicide.
“When you add law enforcement numbers, you’re doubling the total numbers of suicides,” Campbell said.
Twenty-five first responders have ended their own lives in 2016 as of March 1, and two of them were in El Paso, Texas.
“The problem is not getting better and we need to be better protecting and better taking care of our responders,” Campbell said. “That means providing education via our group, resources via our group and better supporting our people.”
The Code Green Campaign website offers mental health resources, education about awareness and suicide prevention and also allows first responders to submit stories about their own experiences to be shared on the site.
On the website’s testimonial page, responders shared their experiences as well as their mental health struggles and triumphs.
Campbell said the story portion of the website serves to show responders they are not alone in their struggles. An anonymous paramedic of 38 years left a story on the website March 9, urging the community not to be embarrassed to ask for help.
“We are all strong people, and at times too proud to ask for help,” the paramedic stated. “We are all survivors – it’s in our nature. Suicide seems like it will end the pain, but if you love your family and friends it’s not ending it for them. They are there to help, and talking with them may bring pain to them, however, it will also allow you to heal together and move forward.”