The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously passed a motion to review current policies, programs and services relating to preventing suicide and minimizing PTSD among the county’s first-responders.
The motion by Supervisor Kathryn Barger, co-authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn, also calls for review of secondary trauma and mental health care, as well as education and outreach for first-responders, emergency room personnel and crime scene personnel.
A recent report published by the Ruderman Family Foundation said that the number of firefighters and law enforcement officers who took their own lives outnumbered all line-of-duty deaths in 2017, “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.”
“These brave men and women face extremely tough situations every day, sacrificing so much to save the lives of others – they deserve our help to save theirs,” Barger said.
The report also says that not enough agencies have programs and policies in place to address suicide prevention, “Silence can be deadly, because it is interpreted as a lack of acceptance … that prevents first responders from accessing potentially life-saving mental health services.”
“The situations our first responders are asked to respond to can be horrific and their experiences can have lifelong effects,” said Supervisor Hahn, who co-authored the motion. “We need to ask ourselves, ‘What can we do to support our first responders and how can we get them the services they need?’”
With input from the Fire Department, the Sheriff’s Department, Probation, the Chief Medical Examiner/Coroner, the Mental Health Department, labor partners and others, the motion calls for the Chief Executive Officer to work with county agencies and other relevant stakeholders and report back to the Board of Supervisors in 90 days.
The report back to the supervisors will include a collaborative and comprehensive plan to address and mitigate mental health issues and suicide among first responders resulting from job-related stress and trauma.
It will examine data, best practices and research from experts concerning the unique issues related to suicide by first responders in order to improve protocols and policies.
This includes training for peers and superiors to help recognize the warning signs of suicide and trauma, and extensive public education and outreach.