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Supervisor Fletcher Announces Program to Help First Responders with Mental Health

09/09/19

To combat the statistic that more first responders die from suicide than in the line of duty, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher announced a new policy proposal today for a confidential, stigma-free program to help first responders who are going through a mental health crisis.

The Fire Captain Ryan J. Mitchell First Responder Behavioral Health Support Program is an initiative to support any first responder struggling with a mental health challenge. The idea is to provide stigma-free, confidential help through a telephone line, website or app and quickly connect first responders to a licensed clinical professional. This service will be completely separate from any services offered by their department. It will be available to anyone who identifies as a first responder —  any jurisdiction and any branch of public safety, whether they’re active or retired. 

“Improving the public’s health is one of our core priorities,” said Supervisor Fletcher. “Preventing suicide by increasing awareness, combating stigma and improving access to the mental health system are all vital steps to improve wellness of the community, and specifically first responders, with this new program.

“If we expect folks to run into harm’s way to protect us,” the Supervisor continued, “We owe it to them to come up with innovative and creative ways to support them when they are going through a tough time in their lives.”

During a listening tour over several months, Supervisor Fletcher spoke with firefighters, police officers and sheriff’s deputies to gather information and perspective that helped to shape the final policy. He decided to name his new policy after a CAL FIRE Captain who tragically took his own life in 2017. The Supervisor learned of the Fire Captain’s story during the listening tour, had the chance to meet the captain’s father, and received permission to honor his memory by naming the policy after him. 

First responders see very traumatic situations daily. Repeated exposure can cause immediate and delayed distress that can lead to social and emotional impairment that affects one’s behavioral health. If untreated, this trauma can cause problems with family, social and work activities.

The Ruderman Family Foundation found that in 2017, the nation’s first responder community experienced the tragic loss of 93 firefighters and 129 police officers in the line of duty. That same year, nationally we lost at least 103 firefighters and 140 police officers died of suicide. The current estimate is that fire/EMS suicides are being undercounted by as much as 60 percent

During today’s press conference at the County Administration Center —flanked by the leadership of CAL FIRE Local 2881, San Diego County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and first responders from agencies across San Diego County — Supervisor Fletcher laid out the specific requests his new policy makes of the County’s Chief Administrative Officer:  

  1. Authorize a competitive solicitation for confidential peer support and navigation services for first responders residing throughout San Diego County.
  2. Provide free and confidential mental health care services to all of our region’s first responders that reach out in crisis. 
  3. Encourage increased access to available services and, when deemed necessary, direct linkages to mental health services from a predetermined cohort of culturally competent mental health providers. 
  4. Augment the County Health and Human Services Agency’s behavioral illness awareness and stigma-reduction media campaign, “It’s Up to Us”, to include programming for local first responders that will  reduce stigma, increase awareness, and encourage access to available behavioral health services. 

The Board of Supervisors will vote on Supervisor Fletcher’s policy on Tuesday, September 10 during the regularly scheduled Board meeting that begins at 9:00 a.m.