What happens when the people helping the community, need help themselves?
That’s the question first responders are asking themselves as suicide rates rise in departments across the country.
In June first responders in Rocky Mount lost an EMT friend with the Glade Hill Rescue Squad, which left them asking quite a few questions.
Now, they are looking to the root of this problem, and pushing for legislation in Congress to get more mental health support for first responders.
Jonathan Smith, a first responder in Franklin County worked as an EMT/Firefighter with Robbie Dent for 12 years.
“We took it from being EMT/Firefighters to being best friends,” Smith said.
In June, Dent took his own life at the age of 44.
“It was a complete shock it’s one of them things that you don’t ever see coming,” Smith said.
Dent’s death left Smith and his colleagues wondering if there was anything they could have done to prevent this.
“Every time you would ask Robbie for help, he would say, ‘you just need to put a little Dent in it,'” he said.
To continue Dent’s legacy of helping others, Smith started a group called “Putting a Dent in Mental Health.”
That’s because Dent isn’t the only first responder who struggled with their mental health.
Alarming statistics show that last year, more first responders died of suicide than in the line of duty.
Smith says some are afraid to ask for help.
“They don’t want to be weak,” he said. “They feel they have to be just as tough as the next guy or tougher.”
Smith wants to use the group as a way to break that stigma.
Tyler Lee is a volunteer firefighter and Carilion Health employee, but he says these statistics still shock him.
“We want to come in and do more peer support and say ‘Okay fellow first responder, what’s going on today?'” Lee said.
The Putting a Dent in Mental Health organization wants to go beyond this by creating more mental health resources and training to recognize signs of depression.
“Because in order to take care of somebody else, you have to take care of yourself,” Smith said.
Lee and Smith say they are travelling to different stations giving presentations about mental health.
They have also been communicating with local representatives, such as Senator Tim Kaine and Morgan Griffith to hopefully get legislation passed.