June 17, 2024

Tampa Bay leaders are emphasizing the importance of mental health for first responders

Law enforcement and first responders put their lives on the line to protect the public.

They often have life changing and traumatic situations in line with duty.

Mental health advocates say first responders and their families carry the weight of these experiences, in addition to their personal lives.

Law enforcement leaders in the Tampa Bay Area are stressing the importance of the well-being and mental health of their officers.

Advocates say this starts with breaking the stigma surrounding mental health and first responders, and making resources and support more readily available.

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“Our first responders are meant to be helpers,” explained Tampa Bay Crisis Center CEO Clara Reynolds. “They’re the ones who go, you know, into the fire. They respond when they have to. And we forget that they’re human. They have their own problems and feelings.”

Because of the intensity and demands of their jobs, advocates say it’s easy to put the mental and emotional needs of first responders on the backburner.

Mental health advocates say these jobs can be tough.

“You know, I think the stigma was so long, ‘Nope. We’re tough guys. We’re tough women,'” shared Stephanie Yaslowitz Barnes, with Concerned Police Survivors, also known as COPS.

Sometimes the first responders are the people who need the help too, though.

Over the past several years, Reynolds says the need for mental health resources for first responders has been especially clear.

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“I think more and more, people recognized that they were struggling,” Reynolds said. “And then you add social unrest. You add political unrest. You know, what we’re seeing around the world with the weather, these are certainly all risk factors and/or stressors for the average person. But then you add all the requirements, all the things that a first responder deals with.”

Reynolds says first responders have a unique set of experiences that many others don’t.

First responders carry the weight of their jobs and their personal lives.

First responders carry the weight of their jobs and their personal lives.

“You can have that professional detachment,” Reynolds explained. “You go to your place, you go to your calling, and you are able to fulfill that duty. But there are often those situations, those situations that really touch you.”

“They put it in perspective, and you have to be numb to it,” Yaslowitz Barnes said. “You know, and I think a lot of officers over the years have just become numb to it.”

The numbness often leads to silence, which can be very harmful over time.

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The Crisis Center has a hotline dedicated to first responders. The line, which can be reached at 1-866-4FL-HERO, is open 24/7 for first responders or their loved ones to call.

“A lot of times our first responders feel isolated,” Reynolds shared. “They feel like there’s nowhere to go. They’re worried about their careers in this temporary moment in time.”

Over a period of 11 months, the Crisis Center says it received 598 calls from first responders and their families.

“They don’t need to struggle in silence,” Reynolds said. “They don’t have to face their crises alone, there is help.”

If you or a loved one are feeling distressed, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The crisis center provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to civilians and soldiers. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 (Crisis Text Line).

CLICK HERE your warning signs and risk factors of suicide. Call 1-800-273-TALK for free and confidential emotional support.

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