New law making mental health services more accessible for first responders

Local News

PEORIA, Ill. — First responders take care of people daily, but some allow their mental health to fall by the wayside.

Everything firefighters and police officers experience can leave lasting effects on both their physical and mental health.

“The things that we see and the things that we do will stay with us forever,” Peoria Fire Department Chief Tony Ardis said.

“We’re fixers,” Peoria Fire Department Captain Andy Perry said. “We as firefighters, we get called to fix things so when we get broken sometimes we don’t even know we’re broken.”

Their traumatic experiences can result in psychological issues. A new law passed in Illinois will make mental health services more accessible for police officers and firefighters. The legislation allows emergency personnel to refer to fellow first responders for help through employee assistance or peer counseling. It mandates that any oral or written information communicated during sessions is strictly confidential and could not be used in any judicial hearing, arbitration, or other adjudicatory proceedings.

“Police Officers and Firefighters either commit suicide or attempt suicide at a 10 times higher rate than the general public and a lot that has to do with and again research has proven that when you have repetitive experiences with traumatic situations and stress-filled situations it has a long-lasting effect with regards to stress, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder,” Chief Ardis.

Peoria Fire Department Captain, Andy Perry says the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support group is another resource.

“When they get to that point and they finally overcome that stigma of realizing hey I need some help they’ll reach out,” Perry said.

It started in 2014 and has gained 300 members across the state. Firefighters dealing with depression, family issues or more can speak to or meet with others who have faced similar problems.

The law passed in Senate Bill 0730 notes that one of the very first steps toward helping public safety employees is recognizing the signs of cumulative stress and other issues that may lead to suicide, then offering solutions for intervention.

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