Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn | End of Silence for First Responders

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary

On the 17th anniversary of 9/11, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors began its regular meeting with a moment of silence to pay respects to the men and women who died, or were injured at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Shanksville that horrific day in 2001. 

In that moment, we collectively vowed to “never forget” the tremendous sacrifice of first responders who ran into burning buildings to rescue people they did not know. We also prayed silently for the families left behind.

There is a time for gestures made in silence. But when it comes to helping our first responders who deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and job-related stress that stem from crime, accidents, violence, human anguish and death that they witness in the course of their duties, silence is not appropriate. 

A recent report by the Ruderman Family Foundation said, “Silence can be deadly, because…it prevents first responders from accessing potentially life-saving mental health services.”

The report also indicates that the number of firefighters and law enforcement officers who took their own lives outnumbered all line-of-duty deaths in 2017. 

It goes on to state, “Constant exposure to death and destruction exerts a psychological toll on first responders, resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, depression and even suicide.”

In light of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, it is necessary that we address the issue of suicide among our first responders. Let’s not forget their families who may also shoulder what’s known as collateral trauma – which takes form in many insidious ways.

Given the inroads being made to mitigate the issue of suicide and mental health among the veteran and military community, it is important to acknowledge that our first responders are also being affected by these issues.

On Tuesday, we tasked our county agencies, the Sheriff, Fire, Coroner, Probation, Mental Health and others with reporting to our board on a comprehensive plan to address mental health issues and suicide among first responders.

The report will give us a road map to examine data, best practices and research about the unique issues related to PTSD and suicide by first responders so that we can put protocols and policies in place that will save lives. This includes training for peers and supervisors to help recognize warning signs, as well as normalizing open and honest conversation about mental health and suicide. 

Let us not forget that our first responders – who we look to as heroes – are human, too.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger represents Los Angeles County’s 5th District and Janice Hahn represents the 4th District.

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