UNSPOKEN: Local first responder talks mental health with Florida’s First Lady

Local News

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — On Tuesday, First Lady Casey DeSantis held a listening session with Florida’s first responder leaders to discuss the need to provide better emotional support to law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency medical responders due to the growing crisis of depression, PTSD, and suicide in their ranks.

Men and women from across the state took the visit to Tallahassee to join in and one of Bay County’s own was at the table.

Danny Page is a captain for Bay County Emergency Services and has served in the area for over 18 years.

“We met with the First Lady and just talk about some of the issues that are near and dear to those who were represented there and some of the issues and concerns that we see throughout the state,” Page said.

Page says the profession he’s in is extremely rewarding but there are also negatives to it.

“As most responders, I’ve seen a lot. A lot I wish I could forget. I think most would say the most difficult calls we get involve kids,” Page said.

He says for most, it’s relatively easy to cope with the tough times.

“Thanks to our brothers and sisters in the field and our families that take care of us, we cope with it and we continue to carry on and help others. However, there are some that don’t have those coping mechanisms or it’s also a cumulative thing that years and years and years of seeing it and doing it and being the one that saves everybody, being the rescuer and one to respond, it does take its toll and sometimes people don’t know where to turn or have those resources,” Page said.

Page says the stress of the job can even get to the point of self-harm.

“Suicides among first responders are higher than among the line of duty deaths in first responders. If you look at the numbers, more firefighters and law enforcement officers killed themselves than were killed at work and that’s only for those that reported it.”

He says though, finding help can be harder than what people may think.

“Often mental health workers are not familiar with our profession. They don’t understand the lingo, they don’t understand our shifts, they don’t understand a lot about it and so when we try to talk about it, we have to stop and explain where we’re coming from. That turns us off and many of us don’t want to speak to them.”

He feels as if responders are more likely to talk to a fellow responder and learning the signs of stress, anxiety or depression is important.

“You can know if they’re different. The comments they make, they can become withdrawn, they have anger management issues, they are just not coping well at home or have a lot of home life problems. You see changes in personality sometimes, their sleep patterns are different, their eating patterns are different.”

Page says while in Tallahassee, the group is coming up with a plan to get the resources to responders that they need.

“We’re just going to try and poll the first responders throughout the state to determine what’s out there, what’s available, what’s missing, what’s needed, what’s wanted and just to figure out those gaps and address that.”

Overall, Page wants the stigma in the business to be erased and let all first responders know it’s okay not to be okay.

“It’s okay to say, ‘hey, it’s been a tough day. That was a tough call and I need somebody to talk to, I need somewhere to turn.”

Page says they are hoping to present their findings to Casey DeSantis at the end of January.

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