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Life After the Trigger: first responders talk mental health after critical incidents

Statistics show first responders are more likely to die by suicide, than in the line of duty (WNWO).
Statistics show first responders are more likely to die by suicide, than in the line of duty (WNWO).
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WNWNO) -- Officer involved shootings are something the Toledo area became rather familiar with this past summer, with three incidents in just over a month.

Those fatal shootings happened during an armed robbery at the Dollar General on Heatherdowns on July 21st, an attempt to apprehend a person of interest in a string of other robberies on Lagrange Street on July 27th and a car chase turned hostage situation in Perrysburg Township just a month later on August 27th.

The incidents are something these police departments are still recovering from months later, and are described as traumatic events for everyone involved, especially the officer.

Statistics show that in 2017 more first responders died by suicide than in the line of duty, which has departments taking a serious look at mental health on the job.

"You think about the fact that you had to take someone's life to protect yourself and to protects someone else's life, that's quite a traumatic incident it's a critical incident and we treat it just like that," said Detective Sgt. Todd Curtis, Perrysburg Township Police Department.

It's standard protocol for officers to be placed on administrative leave for 48 hours after a critical incident like an officer-involved shooting, but there are other protocols that continue after they come back to work.

A few years ago, Toledo Police Chief George Kral implemented mandatory debriefings after traumatic incidents, to help his officers take care of their mental health.

"So now if there's a critical incident within 48 hours we have every officer that's involved, we bring the dispatchers in, we bring the detective everyone, just so they can talk, and there's no supervision there's no reports taken it's just another way of getting that trauma off of your brain and your heart and out in the open," said Chief Kral.

According to the Ruderman Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization that advocates for people with disabilities, just last year there were a total of 243 first responder deaths by suicide. That's compared to the 222 first responders that died in the line of duty.

Denise Kidder is the executive director of Safe Haven Behavioral Health Services and has specialized in working with first responders for over a decade.

"They're asked to go into these environments and make split decisions every day and it's a challenge for them to go out and see the things that they see and not be impacted by it," said Kidder.

Kidder said through her work with military, police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians, she's seen a large amount of PTSD or depression from the emotionally taxing field of work.

"They're exposed to some pretty critical situations that can create flashbacks, very difficult memories, difficulty sleeping, concentrating and you know it's important to talk about that and process their experience," said Kidder.

Captain Kevin Braun was part of an officer-involved shooting 15 years ago, and assists with Toledo Police's peer support group. The group within the department acts as a buddy system for the negative situations that officers face on a daily basis.

"The struggles that officers go through when they're involved in a shooting incident and how not all of that comes to the surface, you don't see what they're kind of struggling with and what they're dealing with but a lot of times they are and sometimes they don't even really recognize it, and it manifests itself in other actions," said Capt. Braun.

The Wood County Board of Mental Health is assisting a group of first responders to create a peer to peer program that would offer county-wide support for their departments as well.

"These are all things that first responders deal with, that we kind of forget about, you know were supposed to have this tough shield around us at all times, but you know inside we're still human and we can still be affected by these things," said Sgt. Curtis.

"But that's what we do, and we're expected to do that job and we do it."

If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis or having suicidal thoughts you can call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255. To seek professional help in Toledo, you can contact Safe Haven Behavioral Health Services.

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