First responders talk mental health struggles

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 6:03 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Our brave first responders come to the rescue when we need them most. But while they’re trained to handle almost any situation physically, it’s hard to prepare for the toll it could take on them mentally.

Police officers and firefighters face pain, loss, and trauma almost every day. Even though it’s their job to be that helping hand when you need them, sometimes they need help too.

“You can go to school and get trained and become a firefighter, but what it doesn’t train you for is the mental toll this job can take on you,” Panama City Beach Fire Rescue Chief Ray Morgan said.

These brave men and women take on the role of real-life superheroes. But no one said being a hero was easy.

“The idea that you have to be superman all the time, it’s just impossible,” Panama City Beach Police Chief J.R. Talamantez said. “I tell you a lot of times, the strongest people who are strongest in appearance are hurting the most.”

Sometimes each other is all they need.

“We live together, we work together, we do the same calls together, we see the same things together. And it takes somebody that knows the world that you’re from to be able to help you through what you’re dealing with on these kinds of things,” Morgan said.

But speaking up can be tough for some.

“Unless you give them a little nudge, a lot of times those officers are just going to bottle that in, and if it stays in there too long, it’s just going to end badly,” Talamantez said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, officers and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. But mental health is a top priority for both the Panama City Beach Police Department and Fire Rescue team.

“We developed a wellness committee within the department just a few months ago,” Talamantez said.

“We changed our hourly work schedule to a 48/96 to give our guys more time off away from the job, more time to download and decompress,” Morgan said.

Bay County also has a Critical Incident Stress Management team that works day and night to help our first responders through any struggles they may face.

“You don’t have to be big and bad all the time. There’s no, nothing negative about being vulnerable, about being human,” Talamantez said.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which is a time to remind everyone it’s okay to not always be okay. And it is not weak to ask for help.

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