On Tuesday the San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously backed a proposal creating a new behavioral health program that will provide confidential mental health services to all first responders in the county, even if they are retired.
The program will cost $450,000 in the current fiscal year’s budget with funds coming from a realignment of Health and Human Services funding.
Although public safety departments in the county and several cities already offer mental health services to employees, advocates and some heads of the departments say the stigma surrounding mental health and concerns about confidentiality often prevent first responders from seeking help.
Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who penned the proposal, hopes this new program will combat that and serve as an important tool in helping to reduce suicide among first responders as well.
Researchers say that just as many, if not more, first responders die as a result of suicide as in the line of duty. And a 2017 study by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that in that year 243 first responders, including police and firefighters, died as a result of suicide compared to 222 first responders who died in the line of the duty.
The program is named after Cal Fire Capt. Ryan Mitchell, who worked at a Cal Fire station in El Cajon and committed suicide in Nov. 2017.
“First responders across San Diego County in the midst of a mental health crisis will be able to quickly access clinician assistance confidentially without the barriers that today are preventing them from getting the help they need, ” said Fletcher in a statement after the vote.
The program will also include an education and media outreach campaign.