On Tuesday, Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis held a listening session with first responder leaders to discuss the need to provide better emotional support to law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency medical responders due to the growing crisis of depression, PTSD and suicide in their ranks.
“We owe it to our first responders, who protect us every day, to make sure that they know of available services so they can seek help,” said DeSantis. “On a daily basis, our first responders are exposed to the most tragic side of humanity. My Hope for Healing Florida initiative is about ensuring that communication is happening across all platforms so we can address the mental health and substance abuse crisis together. I am asking for a renewed commitment to our first responders’ emotional health to help ensure that they are provided all that they need.”
It is estimated that 30 percent of first responders suffer depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, substance use disorder, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts. The rate of suicide ideation among U.S. fire and EMS professionals is 10 times higher, and their rate of suicide attempts is six times higher, than the rate for the general population of adults.
“I am grateful to the first lady for lending her voice and bringing awareness to this critical issue that we all face,” said Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen. “Studies show that law enforcement officers experience more human tragedy and despair in the first three years of their career than the average citizen experiences in a lifetime. In fact, this is the fourth year in a row that officer suicides will outnumber line of duty deaths, and our state ranks in the top five. First responders experience multiple barriers that prevent them from dealing with mental health issues. It is vital that we implement true change to care for those who put their lives at risk to protect ours.”
“Being a first responder is an extremely heavy job with a unique set of challenges – from secondhand trauma to eventual burnout. Naturally, they have unique emotional needs as well,” said Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) Sec. Chad Poppell.“With conversations like the one initiated by the first lady today, we will address those needs and ensure that Florida’s first responders are being taken care of – with the same concern they have for everyone they interact with, every day.”
“I thank the first lady for her leadership on the important issue of the mental health of our law enforcement and their families,” said Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco.“Unfortunately, too often, law enforcement becomes the chief mental health provider in their jurisdiction. This fact, coupled with the fact that our members daily see the worst of society, can be overwhelming. This weighs heavily on our members and we must address their mental health and that of their families who support them, as well.”
“PTSD within our first responder community is real,” said state CFO Jimmy Patronis. “These heroes encounter unthinkable tragedies on the job, and firefighters alone attempt suicide at a rate much higher than the general population. I’m thankful for the recent passage of important legislation to help our first responders recognize and manage PTSD, but we can’t stop there. We must continue to listen to the needs of these brave men and women, and I thank First Lady Casey DeSantis for working to ensure Florida’s first responders know they’re not alone.”