Crimewatch: Helping our first responders battle stress

We often look to first responders as heroes--those who have an inner toughness to display courage in times of chaos. But they are not numb to the trauma they see. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder comparable to that of a combat veteran. In this week's Crimewatch, FOX 7's Noelle Newton shows intervention efforts to save those whose careers are to save our lives.

When we are hurting, we see the faces of first responders. When they hurt they see this people like Tania Glenn.

"To me it's an honor and I am so privileged to help guide them,” said Glenn of Tania Glenn & Associates.

Clinician Tania Glenn specializes in counseling first responders. She pulls them out of their darkest moments when a combination of on and off-the-job stressors become too much.

"Usually it's very hard for them to ask for help because the culture is gut it out, stay strong, suck it up. By the time they come in for counseling things have declined significantly,” said Glenn. "I always say it's like they're coming in hot, both engines on fire with things falling off."

Glenn, who has assisted with traumatic events spanning from the Oklahoma City bombing to Dallas when five officers were gunned down, estimates 40 to 50 percent of first responders suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Their job is to walk into peoples' lives on the absolute worst days of their lives,” said Glenn. "Every single call, every single shift is one more risk of putting a first responder into a situation that is beyond their human coping capability which is the precursor for PTSD."

To better determine the severity of critical stress, ambulance service manager surveyed 4,022 EMS personnel and found that 86 percent had experienced what was referred to as critical stress.

37 percent had contemplated suicide. Compare that to the national average of 3.7 percent as determined by the centers for disease control and prevention.

6.6 percent of respondents said they'd attempted suicide. That figure was also higher than the CDC average of .5 percent.

"It breaks my heart because I know there's so much help to be had. So many options,” said Glenn.

Recently, the Travis County Sheriff's Office lost Sgt. Craig Hutchinson to suicide in a very public way. Sheriff Greg Hamilton spoke with FOX 7 about how his deputies are coping.

"I think it's very somber around the department. We're dealing with it. I think when we see an individual that is down and can't seem to stand there's always someone there to help them stand up and they can be the leaning post,” said Hamilton.

Austin-Travis County EMS created a peer-support program last may after losing two of its personnel to suicide.

"As medics we're really good at taking care of our patients and of others in our family, but it's harder to take care of ourselves,” said Captain Neda Oskouee.

Captain Neda Oskouee is one of 30 medics now on the department's peer support team. They monitor emergency calls and respond if necessary. They also operate a hotline that staff may call when in need of a friend.

"It's really to be humans for each other and allow our medics to feel,” said Oskouee.

"There is a culture historically of just powering through, of putting on that brave face. It's part of the job. It's what we do,” said Assistant Chief Teresa Gardner. “Having a peer support team makes it okay to say I'm not okay. I'm not doing really well with the things I'm seeing or the things I'm doing. I really need someone to talk to and I really need some help to work through it. That's part of the change we're seeing.”

The team just celebrated its one year anniversary. Glenn assisted along the way.

"Really it's become this front line of defense to help first responders,” said Glenn of peer support. "I just think it's important for people to understand that they're not robots they're not machines, they too are human beings that have the same struggles everyone else has."

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