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The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay is teaming with the advertising agency ChappellRoberts on a new initiative called “First to Respond, Last to Ask for Help.” The program, which promotes suicide awareness for Tampa Bay’s first responders, was announced during a Tuesday conference.
The campaign includes a video which addresses the importance of reaching out and talking with health care professionals. It will air on multiple social media platforms, encouraging law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics to call “2-1-1”, the Crisis Center Hotline, if they feel the urge to harm themselves or others.
In a mission statement on LastToAsk.com, Crisis Center officials say, “These men and women run head-first into situations most people run away from, they are exposed to unimaginable scenes of trauma. Despite the dedication of these first responders, the emotional toll of the job is often overlooked and stigmatized. The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay believes that no one in our community should face crisis alone…To those who serve, we thank you. And we are here for you.”
According to the Ruderman Family Foundation, PTSD and depression rates among firefighters and police officers have been found to be five times higher than the general population. The foundation also found that first responders are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.
Mayor and former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor spoke about the need for this kind of service in the community.
“As a police officer you get to see and do things that nobody else gets to see and do, but you have to see and do things that nobody should have to see or do,” Castor said. “You see things that are unimaginable to the average citizen.”
Chief Nick LoCicero of Tampa Fire Rescue also spoke at the event to express his gratitude for this new initiative.
“I believe this program certainly will give that opportunity for those that have issues with (trauma) and need to talk with someone and gives them an outlet to do that,” LoCicero said. “I’m very, very happy to be a part of this.”
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan talked about breaking the negative stigma of mental illness.
“We need to make our first responders comfortable in seeking help,” Dugan said. “At times they think that seeking help is a sign of weakness where in my opinion, it is a sign of strength.”
And Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister spoke about how big a problem mental health is for men and women in uniform.
“I think mental health is probably one of the biggest epidemics we have in this country,” Chronister said. “And law enforcement and first responders are no exception.”
Chronister has made mental health awareness a priority for his employees with the Sgt. Jonathan Black Resiliency Program, named for a Hillsborough deputy who lost several friends to suicide. Black died of cancer a year ago.
“First responders have to be healthy themselves before they are able to take care of anyone else and that’s why this (campaign) is so important,” Chronister said.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or actions, call 2-1-1 anytime to receive support and counseling.