First Responders and Mental Health: Suicide Prevention Month

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By Marie B, former first responder

I know, it’s almost the end of September. But, September is Suicide Prevention Month. It is a touchy subject. Especially for first responders. I know we have all dealt with the general public and either suicide attempts or they’ve been successful. I can’t count how many calls I’ve dealt with that were either attempts or successful. They are so sad and its depressing. You often wonder if they had just had someone to talk to or if someone would have just noticed that something was “off” with them. I have had at least 2 where it was a complete surprise.

One such incident, this older gent. He was so pleasant. He had called us to come get him out of the floor because he had fallen. We tried to get him to go to the ER. He finally said he’d go. So we transported. He had made statements like, his wife was out of town. He didn’t want to leave his home. We kept reassuring him that he was going to just go get checked out. He was okay with that. Fast forward to the end of my double shift. We got a call out at his home. I didn’t see the note that was attached to his door we went in. I went down the hall, calling his name. There was a single light on in his house. I followed it and it lead to his bedroom. He was laying in the bed. Wet lung sounds. I went to him and tried to get him to talk to me. I pulled back the covers and discovered a weapon. Come to find out, he had contacted 9-1-1 to get us to come out. He told dispatch to send us out because he had fallen again. He said we had been so nice. Once he hung up the phone, he shot himself. We had gotten to him to soon as he was still breathing when we arrived. The note that was posted to the door was to his housekeeper. He wanted her to clean the house before his wife got home. He had prepped. He made “as little mess” as possible. He used pillows to keep the “mess” at bay. He also carefully chose a “less messy spot” to shoot himself. He had a plan. I beat myself up over it. If only I had listened more closely. I remember that call so vividly. Truthfully, there was nothing I could have done. He had made his mind up. He only told us that he didn’t want to leave his house.

I know that many of you have had situations like this. This was before the Critical Stress Debriefing days. I was stressed beyond belief with that call and a few other suicides. What a lot of the “higher ups” fail to realize that those calls can be just as tough, if not worse, than other calls like the traumas out there. That’s why we must look after each other.

Speaking of each other, how many of us have lost a co-worker to suicide? Here is a statistic for you from It is the Columbia Light House Project. In more than 1,000 firefighters, they found that nearly 50% had suicidal thoughts at some point in their career! About 16% reported one or more (!!) attempts. What?!? Survey of EMS 37% had contemplated and 6.6% have attempted it! Wow! That is way to many! In 2020, per USA Today, 116 police officers committed suicide were as there were 113 LODD. Though the number of police, fire and EMSnumbers could be higher due to the STIGMA! In the same article it said that EMS/Fire had 127 suicides in 2020 and in 2017 there were 126. ( suicide rate police firefighters mental health)

Yall that is way to many!! 1 is too many. We need to help each other and break this stupid stigma. Get help. It is okay to not be okay. There are so many programs out there. Let me tell you, you are stronger than you think. There are people out there that know exactly how you feel. You are not alone. It may feel like it. That one buddy that is ‘to busy’ to stop and talk, find another one. There are numbers to call. There are plenty of people out there that want to talk to you. Please, please reach out. You will be missed by someone!! You are stronger than you think. You just need to prove it to yourself. 9-8-8. Call it. I understand that the weight of the world could be on you. You need to call 9-8-8 and let someone help you relieve that weight. That burden.

I’ve talked about it before, contact your HR and get your EAP to give you some free sessions. Its confidential. If you are in South Carolina, contact us here at Choices Counseling. 803-851-4049. We would love to help you, to listen to you and give you some tips to ease you on your journey. If you are out of the area, please call 9-8-8 and get your local resources. EAP can help you find a resource as well. You don’t have to fight alone anymore.

Please take care of yourself, mentally, physically, and emotionally. You are loved and someone out there would miss you terribly.

Suicide Hotline: 9-8-8

SAMHSA: 1-877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727)