Violence takes a toll on first responders’ mental health

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CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — Violence is starting to weigh on first responders.

“You need a little time to adjust, because that’s traumatic. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care if you’re superhero, those things take a toll,” Justin Bouse, Rantoul Police Deputy Chief, said.

“You need a little time to adjust, because that’s traumatic. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care if you’re superhero, those things take a toll,” Bouse said.

Mental health isn’t just a concern for people in the community dealing with violence, but also for the people responding to it. Several first responders in Champaign County have different mental health resources in place for their employees.

“I think mental health is obviously a huge deal and I think that we’re learning more and more in law enforcement everyday about having the benefits of having somebody you could talk to about some of the things we see, some of the incidents that we handle,” Bouse said.

First responders put their lives on the line to help others.

“That accumulation of really ugly things that they see, it does take its toll on a lot of people,” Aaron Landers, Lieutenant at UIPD, said.

They are the first people arriving on scene to help others and sometimes what they respond to can be devastating.

“We come to work every day. We don’t get to take a time out. We don’t get to say no when the alarm goes off. We go and we handle whatever the situation is no matter who it is that needs help and sometimes those things have a lasting and lingering impact,” Josh Jessup, with the Champaign Fire Department, said.

This past year has been stressful for everyone, but for those who’s job it is to respond to shootings, fires, and other traumatic events, it can take a toll on their mental health.

“For a long time kind of put that as a negative stigma, if you sought help. And I think we’re starting to break the ice a little bit to see that there is definitely benefits in having these programs available,” Bouse said.

Rantoul Police have an Employee Assistance Program and Chaplin program, which gives officers and their families resources to speak with someone if they need.

“It revolves things that they’re feeling about at work, even in their home life. A place that they could reach out and talk to somebody about these problems that they’re having,” Bouse said.

Meanwhile over in Champaign, the Fire Department has a doctor they work with for mental health resources, as well as a peer support program, which is also utilized at the Urbana Fire Department.

“Its trained firefighters that are trained to listen. Trained in special resources, trained to help our members when they’re in a time of crisis and even to help their families if there’s a time of crisis,” Jessup said.

U of I Police is also doing what it can to help officers, the community, and other departments in the area. The department utilizes comfort dogs and has a trained mental health specialist on hand.

“We always focus kind of outward. We’re out there to help other people, but we’re really pushing that hard, but the idea that our officers are not seeing these terrible, horrible things on a daily basis,” Landers said.

All three departments said they hope to see mental health resources for first responders nationwide.

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