BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. - Cal Fire tells Action News Now that the number of firefighters killed by suicide is higher than those killed in the line of duty. An exact number in Butte County is to be determined, as there remains a stigma for those who seek help against PTSD and suicide.
Cal Fire shares that extended hours, 24-hour long shifts and exposure to constant death and destruction can hurt mental wellness.
"What happens with first responders generally is they are taught at the beginning to get through it and put emotions aside," says Katy Luallan, a therapist for first responders. "As they experience trauma, going to accidents, medical calls, and fires, those things start to add up."
The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance found that only 40% of suicides are voluntarily reported. There are already 43 confirmed cases of firefighter suicide nationwide in 2018.
Reporter Stephanie Lin also met with AJ Mount with the Paradise Fire Department and a war vet who fought in Iraq. Mount lost two friends he served with, and a colleague at the fire station, to suicide.
"It's becoming more acceptable to talk about it," Mount says, "but in this industry, law enforcement...there's still a stigma."
Mount adds that finding healthy outlets, such as exercise and writing out thoughts, has helped him overcome trauma. He also encourages those struggling to reach out to colleagues and trusted friends.
"If I see someone struggling, I'll ask 'em, how you doing? You seem a little different, what's going on?"
"I’ve seen a huge change, thankfully, in how departments are handling this," Luallan adds. "Individuals are accepting one another, feeling more comfortable talking about it."
Nationwide, first responder suicides, in general, are on the rise. 140 police officers took their own lives in 2017.
If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, available 24 hours a day. You may also try the National Fire / EMS Hotline 1-888-731-FIRE