INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers hope a bill moving forward this session will help improve first responders’ mental health.
House Bill 1321 would require first responders to be educated on mental health and wellness.
Advocates say the goal is to keep first responders healthy and save lives.
“We all have pictures in our mind of things we’ve done and things we’ve faced,” said Chief Ed Gebhart of the Fishers Police Department, who testified in support of the bill at the Statehouse earlier this week.
Chief Gebhart said his officers’ mental health is top of mind and that he knows their work puts them at greater risk.
“It could be an infant baby that dies, it could be an adult that dies when administering CPR, it could be the constant amount of calls for service that get them to a place where they start to mentally suffer,” he said.
It’s a personal issue for many first responders and their loved ones, said State Rep. Victoria Garcia Wilburn (D-Fishers). Garcia Wilburn said that is why her husband retired from law enforcement in 2019.
“I think at the time, there was still a lot of stigma associated with receiving mental health help,” Garcia Wilburn said. “I think there was a lot of shame involved.”
Garcia Wilburn’s bill would require mental health and wellness training for all law enforcement officers, full-time professional firefighters and EMTs. The annual course would cover coping skills, signs of suicidal behavior and other mental health issues and information on resources to get help.
It’s about keeping the career safe and sustainable, Garcia Wilburn said.
“We don’t want our officers burning out,” she said. “We don’t want our firefighters feeling underappreciated.”
Chief Gebhart said he believes it would help first responders and the people they serve.
“If officers are aware that they can be affected and they know how to heal themselves or they know how to seek help, doesn’t that put a better product into our community when they’re going to other houses who may also be suffering?” Gebhart said.
The bill passed in the House with unanimous support and was approved by a Senate committee this week. It now heads to the Senate floor.
To speak with a trained mental health crisis professional, call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. You can also dial 211 to be connected with local resources in Indiana.