INDIANAPOLIS — The greater Indianapolis area has seen many tragedies occur one right after the other for the past two months and counting.

According to IN.gov, there are more than 40 Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) teams throughout Indiana, made up of trained peer volunteers who arrive on scene to offer care for fellow first responders before they leave an incident, or may give one-on-one attention or group help in the days after.

“First responders are also more likely to die by suicide than they are to die in the line of duty, and the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance estimates that only about 40 percent of firefighter suicides are reported,” according the Department of Homeland Security’s website.

CISM volunteers are often first responders themselves. When responding to incidents, CISM volunteers are typically paired with first responders in which have gone through/are going through a similar incidence.

This way, first responders who are going through mental or physical harm due to a recent tragedy can relate to another human being in the same profession who has gone through the same thing.

CISM volunteers will involve mental health professionals if they deem it is necessary for the first responder.

For mental health professionals like Kimble Richardson, Manager of Business Development and Referrals at Community Behavioral Health, now is a busy, heavy time. He just recently visited Anaheim, California to speak to first responders about their mental health and how to get help.

“We talked about ways that these first responders could recognize mental health issues before they get out of hand, you know, just as things are starting to happen,” said Richardson. “And also what you can do about it.”

Richardson said that the response he and his colleagues received amazing feedback from their presentation about mental health and mental health resources.

“I think our presentations were the most attended out of all of the conference break-out sessions,” said Richardson.

Mental health maintenance in the field of first responders is needed now more than ever, and Richardson says that slowly but surely, mental health is becoming less taboo and people, especially employers, are beginning to recognize its importance.

“They typically don’t include mental health as a part of their conference. They had to put us in separate classrooms because attendance was so big,” said Richardson. “I think Indiana has a very strong history of providing quick, appropriate, strategic kinds of interventions in crisis situations, in particularly, for our first responders.

“The challenge is, some organizations and agencies don’t know about it,” said Richardson. “Mental health is not a weakness, it’s an illness.”

The public is able to help give mental health help and advice to first responders by completing the Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS) mental health course. From there, you can learn signs and symptoms to look for in first responders who may be suicidal.

More mental health resources for first responders, according to IDHS’ website:

  • Friends and family members of first responders are able to receive free mental health help through the Indiana Public Safety Foundation Counseling Service, available 24/7. Email frontline@indypsf.org to get connected.
  • Firefighter and EMT Suicide ScreeningTake this online self-assessment from the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance to help you understand whether you are experiencing symptoms of depression and suicidal ideations.
  • Share the Load Program: The Share the Load Program is a free nationwide 24-hour hotline for firefighters and EMS personnel. Created by the National Volunteer Fire Council and American Addiction Centers, the hotline  is a confidential service for first responders to receive guidance from another first responder who answers the phone. Call 1-888-731-3473 for help dealing with family issues, substance abuse, stress, mental health and more.