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Efforts Aim To Combat Mental Health Crisis Among First Responders

First responders regularly deal with tragedy, but the stigma surrounding mental health challenges prevents many from seeking treatment. More first responders die by suicide every year than in the line of duty. However, there are efforts to combat the crisis in Arizona.

Since 2000, more than 30 firefighters have died by suicide in Arizona. That’s according to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, which says only about 60% of firefighter suicides are reported.

Peoria’s deputy fire chief, Robert Brewster, has helped cities implement programs that address all health problems firefighters face.

“This has been a problem for a while and more and more agencies are starting to come on board and get specific resources in place. And that’s the key, have resources that are specific to first responders and their needs," Brewster said.

The organization Blue H.E.L.P. says there were 228 police suicides reported in the U.S. last year, including seven in Arizona. But the true number is likely higher.

Matthew Moody, with the nonprofit Crisis Response Network, says reporting a suicide can hinder a family from collecting benefits.

“There’s just this stigma of understanding if you try to sweep something under the rug, and people don't feel comfortable getting the services they need in those situations, they’re going to not seek that help,” Moody said.

He added while progress has been made, there is still a long way to go in addressing the issue.

Greg Hahne started as a news intern at KJZZ in 2020 and returned as a field correspondent in 2021. He learned his love for radio by joining Arizona State University's Blaze Radio, where he worked on the production team.