Study Finds Suicide Rates High Among First Responders

first responder firefighter death resting sad

(Getty Images/Chalabala)

BOSTON (WBZ-AM) -- A new study shows disturbing findings about suicide rates among first responders--including here in Massachusetts.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Laurie Kirby spoke with Dr. Miriam Heyman of the Ruderman Family Foundation about suicide rates among first responders.

The Ruderman Family Foundation looked at police and firefighter deaths going back to the mid-90s, and found that there were more deaths by suicide than in the line of duty.

Dr. Heyman said that about one firefighter per year in Massachusetts commits suicide, but that the actual number is "likely much higher."

"We estimate that the prevalence rate for firefighter suicides in Massachusetts is twice that as a civilian in Massachusetts, meaning that firefighters are twice as likely to commit suicide as other residents of Massachusetts," she said.

Dr. Heyman said she was at first shocked to learn that suicide was a leading cause of death for first responders--until she began to understand the culture.

"First responders witness death and destruction not just in the aftermath of the big events that make the daily news, but every day," she said. "It's a regular part of their daily job. They're heroes for sure, but they're also human. This constant exposure to death and destruction exerts a toll, as we would expect that it would."

She said pressure to be brave and tough keeps first responders from seeking help, and that departments should make help available and encourage its use.

"First of all, I think that we need to celebrate the lives of those lost by suicide just like we celebrate the lives of those lost in the line of duty to bring awareness to this issue," she said. "And, to talk about mental health and mental illness in general so that all people can access the services we need--especially the heroes who risk their lives for us every day."

WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Laurie Kirby reports

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