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When stress is part of the job, mental health counts: Support for El Paso’s first responders

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- Everyone knows that a first responder faces crisis every day -- it's part of the job. They have to go through rigorous training, prep work and testing to be the people called in during an emergency. While they have to be physically fit, they must also be mentally prepared to work their shift.

Mental health has grown in importance for first responders over the past decade. In El Paso, fire officials tell me they are working to ensure access to support for first responders throughout the department.

In 2018, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) looked into the mental health challenges facing first responders. Their documentation explains that, in a pre-COVID world, an estimated 30% of police officers, firefighters and EMTs develop behavioral health conditions like depression PTSD -- compared to only 20% of the general population.

That same report found that suicide concerns -- specifically for firefighters -- were higher. Firefighters reported higher levels of suicidal ideation and attempts than the general American population. For law enforcement personnel, concerns were also highlighted. Boston University's studies on police suicide show that 150 officers took their own lives in 2021, an increase from the year before -- at a 54% higher risk than the rest of the population. SAMSHA research indicates the average is somewhere between 125 and 300 each year.

Boston University claims that more police officers die of suicide than in the line of duty.

El Paso Fire Chief Jonathan Killings told ABC-7 that the health of his people is paramount to serving the community -- both physical and mental. He outlined several options available to EMTs and Fire personnel for support for mental health. These include options for time off, support for spouses or partners and specialized forms of support.

There have been concerns first responders do not always take up the mental support offered to them. In a study last year, focused on preventative care for responders -- researchers were concerned about how many people actually engaged with support.

They identified several possible barriers to getting that care: stigma, lack of knowledge and negative experiences with providers, among other concerns.

EPFD officials tell ABC-7 they hope to be there for each other in whichever ways best support them.

If you need support, there are a number of options for contacting professionals:

  • 988: The National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline - Anyone can contact the Crisis line through phone, text or message any time, for any mental distress.
  • The 988 line has a dedicated Veterans Crisis Line
  • EHN Crisis Hotline: (915-779-1800) - Staffed by locals, and a long-term resource in El Paso, Emergence Health Network's hotline has specialists ready to hear you out.
  • Emergence Health Network - EHN is able to offer many different forms of support for mental health and wellness. From pet therapy to addiction treatment.
  • NAMI El Paso- As part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there are some options listed on their website for support and connection. NAMI is focused on providing support to anyone with any sort of mental illness.
  • In NEW MEXICO, you can reach out to the CRISIS AND ACCESS LINE AT 855-662-7474.

It's important to note that these are just tools, and suicide support includes multiple forms of support. Psychological support can be a very important factor in preventing future attempts, according to the American Psychological Association.

Avery Martinez covers mental health in the Borderland as part of ABC-7’s Be Mindful initiative. He is also a Report for America corps member. RFA places talented, emerging journalists in newsrooms like ABC-7’s to report on under-covered issues and communities. Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, an award-winning nonprofit journalism organization dedicated to rebuilding journalism from the ground up.

Article Topic Follows: Be Mindful

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Avery Martinez


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