ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Lawmakers are bringing attention to first responders and the hardships they face every day.
“We’ve tried to build a culture where it’s okay. It’s okay to say you’re not okay,” Joshua Jessup says.
Governor Pritzker signed the First Responders Suicide Prevention Act. It will help provide them with mental health resources. The legislation calls for a peer support program for emergency service employees.
During Suicide Prevention Week, we sat down with a police officer and a firefighter. They know the things they see can be traumatic, so they already take part in some of what the bill requires.
“As firefighters, first responders, there’s a lot of things we have to do that the general public doesn’t probably understand or realize,” Jessup says.
It’s more than just fighting fires. As Joshua Jessup explained, it’s medical calls, car accidents and taking care of people. Sometimes, familiar faces.
“In a town our size, which isn’t that large, sometimes you know the people you respond to,” Jessup explains.
It’s the same story for police officers like Urbana Patrol Lieutenant Joel Sanders, responding to calls and not knowing what, or who, you’ll see.
“It’s a very difficult job. It changes you,” Joel Sanders says.
“I the last couple years law enforcement has really taken a look at how we’ve affected the job that we do.”
For some, the emotional trauma is too much to bear. So both departments started peer support programs. Because the Champaign Fire Department knows first hand how a suicide can affect the department.
“2007 is when we lost a member to suicide and that’s something that’s still difficult for many of us who were here when it happened and who knew lieutenant Marmion. The peer support team was born out of some of that pain,” Jessup explains.
But he says, they’ve done more than that. They’ve put a focus on building relationships so no one feels alone.
“Just really getting to know each other on a personal level. so that when something is difficult or hard, it’s easier to have a conversation with each other.”
Just this year 124 police officers have committed suicide, and the Urbana Police Department wants to help but they, like many others, are facing a different challenge.
“The stigma that comes with needing help is hard to breach,” Sanders says.
“I hope we’re close to a point culturally where we can get over the hump and start taking care of each other and recognize there’s just a lot going on in the world that’s difficult to deal with,” Jessup says.
Both of the peer support programs through these departments are confidential. That makes it easier for someone to ask for help.
The bill also calls for a task force to brainstorm ways to help reduce the risk and rates of first responder suicides.