SOUTH FULTON, Ga. - The City of South Fulton has brought in counselors to lend their community’s bravest more support.
Suicide is a big issue among firefighters and other first responders due to the horrors they often have to witness.
"It could be a car wreck, it could be a cardiac arrest, shooting, a building collapse," said South Fulton Chief Chad Jones. "Then we compound that over and over."
Firefighters and police officers are more likely to from suicide than in the line of duty, according to an article published in April by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The stress and mental anguish of the job is a big factor.
Chief Jones said he knows what it’s like losing one of his guys to suicide. It happened during his previous tenure at Atlanta Fire Department several years ago.
it’s not only devastating to obviously the individual’s family, but we are a family too," he said, adding that the stigma around mental health made it more difficult to talk about. "In the 80s, the 90s, and even in the early 2000s, there was that stigma, we were the ones providing help. We didn’t need help."
Jones said as suicide rates have continued to climb among first responders, there’s slowly been a change in that line of thinking. City leaders just approved a contract with Dr. Carla Sutton Moore’s psychology firm to work with firefighters who often bottle up and compartmentalize the things they see.
"It can turn into PTSD," Dr. Moore said. "A lot of the times we see major depressive disorder, substance use issues."
Included in the $35,000 annual agreement with Moore’s practice are pre-hire assessments, mental health training and awareness and counselor debriefings after particularly difficult calls, she said.
"Destigmatizing it means that you actually encourage people to seek help," Dr. Moore said. "There needs to be a culture shift, in general about how we seek psychological help and wellness, the same way agencies are now incorporating annual physicals, incorporate annual wellness consults."
She told FOX 5’s Rob DiRienzo that a lot it is about learning how to cope with the mental health challenges of the job, and not letting it bottle up.
She says her team of counselors will begin holding debriefings with firefighters after they get back from seeing the unthinkable.
Under Georgia state law, all first responders have access to peer support teams, but this initiative takes it a step further.
"The fire department has a saying that everybody goes home," Chief Jones said "Well, we looked at it for years as making sure physically they didn’t get injured and they could go home. We never looked at it mentally."