Startling new studies show suicide rate among first responders are at an all-time high.
In a survey of more than 4,000 first responders, about two in five contemplate suicide, with about one in ten actually attempting it.
Royal Mortenson, director of the Illinois Fire Service Institute, believes there’s only one way to prevent suicide numbers in first responders, and that’s awareness.
“First responders, firefighters, police officers … it’s a high-risk, high-stress profession that is an emotional, physical and spiritual roller coaster,” Mortenson said.
On average, first responders witness almost 200 critical incidents during their career, and extreme exposure to trauma can lead to severe mental illness.
“We believe the more first responders are aware of the stresses of the job and how it affects them emotionally, they are better prepared,” Mortenson said. “We have to take the stigma out of the stress of the job.”
The Illinois Fire Service Institute is leading the nation in resiliency training.
“I felt compelled as the director to address the issue and meet the needs of first responders in Illinois,” Mortenson said.
The institute’s training has reached over 6,000 first responders in Illinois. First responders are taught how to look for signs and symptoms of someone in traumatic distress.
“The single most important thing they learn (is that) they are not alone,” Mortenson added.