The constant exposure to trauma and tragedy that police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and even switchboard operators experience takes a huge toll on mental health, leading to some of the highest occupational rates of depression, PTSD and suicide in the country. In our own backyard, a strong culture of silence around these issues coupled with low pay and unaffordable mental health services for our public protectors contributes to the recent ranking of Arkansas as the worst state to be a police officer.
HEROES of NWA is working to change this reality. We are here to break the silence surrounding the mental health vulnerabilities of first responders and work to reduce the shame and stigma they experience when receiving critical help. We are here to offer financial assistance with copays and deductibles that make accessing mental health services virtually impossible for those who need it the most. And we are here to advocate with the State of Arkansas to make suicide prevention and stress management training for our first responders a legislative priority.
Today, some of the greatest threats to the safety of our families and communities are silent and invisible. We believe that bringing light to these threats and responding to them in a robust and responsible way can literally save lives and make our home of Northwest Arkansas a place where we can better protect and serve the very individuals whose jobs are to protect and serve us.
Every day, first responders who rush towards danger are exposed to toxic levels of stress as they witness or become victims themselves of injury, violence, trauma, and loss.
The cost associated with repeated exposure to destruction and tragedy is enormous. Untreated mental illness in the form of depression or PTSD – which firefighters and police officers are 5 times as likely to experience than civilians – can lead to anxiety and addictions, insomnia, suicidal thoughts, poor physical health, and impaired decision-making. As a result, job performance often suffers, spousal and family relationships can deteriorate, and high turnover rates place a heavy economic burden on cities and counties.
Tragically, many first responders find ultimate escape through suicide.
In fact, police officers and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. And yet only 3-5% of law enforcement agencies across the United States have suicide prevention training programs. Even when mental health services are made available, studies overwhelmingly show that few personnel utilize them. Why?
Many find it difficult to afford and navigate complicated healthcare delivery systems. These obstacles are often exacerbated by the pervasive stigma that still surrounds mental health issues, particularly within the first responder community that is valued for its “strength” and “toughness.” A recent study revealed that despite 85% of first responders who say they’ve experienced mental health symptoms, the vast majority fail to seek help because of the perceived negative repercussions, fearing they’ll be perceived as “weak” or passed over for promotions.
HEROES of NWA was created to help overcome these barriers for the men and women whose health – physical AND mental – we all depend on for our own safety and survival. We believe that the cost of doing nothing is too great for any of us to bear and have dedicated ourselves as former first responders, law enforcement officials, and mental health providers to create a culture of acceptance, support, and responsible treatment to the acute mental health needs of all emergency workers in Northwest Arkansas.
What began as a pilot project with the Bentonville Police Department revealed the overwhelming need in the entire region to break the silence surrounding the mental health vulnerabilities of first responders and work to reduce the shame and stigma they experience when receiving critical help. In response, HEROES organizes workshops, seminars, and training with both current and former law enforcement and emergency personnel to develop the trust and awareness necessary to overcome the barriers of screening and treatment.
When they do choose to seek out services, most responders are unaware of what’s available to them and lack the resources to access them. HEROES’ Resource Advocacy Program includes a specialized social worker who provides on-site education and navigation of critical services, as well as financial assistance with copays and deductibles to help eliminate financial barriers to care.
Perhaps most strategically, HEROES recognizes the need for policy-makers and state leaders to prioritize the mental health needs of its public protectors. Through campaigns and lobbying efforts, we advocate for public support of critical measures that will help emergency personnel cope with trauma and stress, including but not limited to peer support programs, mental health check-ups, time off following stressful events, and training to help family members identify the warning signs of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
We are proud to be part of a region that was recently named the #5 best place to live in the United States. Our renowned public and private investments in economic development and quality of life initiatives are setting new standards across the state and nation.
Today, we have a unique opportunity through HEROES to address a silent but growing crisis facing our first responders and set a new standard for how communities support and minimize the mental health challenges they face every day.
Our heroes need our help. Join us in helping to make NWA the best place for men and women to serve as first responders. Now is the time, for all of our lives depend on it.