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First responders from around the country come to Columbus for mental health conference

The CDC says between 17% and 24% of public safety workers have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and 24% have symptoms of depression.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The very people who might help you in an emergency are under immense stress to keep our communities safe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says between 17% and 24% of public safety workers have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and 24% have symptoms of depression.

Thanks to a program in Dublin, those who wear the uniform can get help for free.

It’s called First Responders’ Bridge. It was created by former Columbus police officer Mick Yinger. 

“Each year more police officers and firefighters commit suicide than all line of duty deaths combined. That's unacceptable,” he said.

Sponsorships and donations pay for every first responder to come to the conference for free. They pay no costs for food or lodging.

Those who have gone through the program, like Columbus police dispatcher Laura Thomas say it saved her life.

“Last year was the year I worked the most. I worked almost 950 hours of overtime,” she said.

All those hours, and all those calls for help, she says add up.

“You can be sitting there doing nothing and you can hear an officer scream, 'I got one running' or 'shots fired' and your adrenaline jumps so high so fast. But it's that adrenaline dump afterward that is so hard to deal with," she said.

Thomas said she realized she needed help, and she’s glad she did. She says in her line of work, many don’t want to talk about mental health but she’s speaking out so more will.

“Mental health is such a stigma and it really shouldn't be and it's unfortunate that it is,” she said.

The issue of mental health among first responders was recently put to song by Stirling John. He’s a Canadian police officer who said he was diagnosed with PTSD. He wrote a song called “The Weight of the Call.” 

“Policing has always been a passion of mine and it's always exposed me to the traumatic situations that many people don't get to see and that's where the lyrics come from,” he said.

The two-day conference starts Oct. 15 and Yinger says nearly everyone who goes through the program comes away with better tools on how to handle the mental stress of being a first responder. He says talking about it is the first step.

“As first responders, we don't want our families to go through the same things that we go through so we keep this stuff bottled up inside,” he said.

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