Casper Council Talks About First Responders Mental Health
At the Casper City Council pre-meeting on Tuesday, the council heard comments on what the police and fire departments in the city are doing to address mental health in the wake of the death of Lieutenant Danny Dundas.
From the police department, they talked about efforts they're doing to let new hires know about the issues that they'll face on the force, and to encourage them to reach out, either to the department or spouses, if they are experiencing issues.
Captain Richard Brown spoke to council about the kinds of things that officers deal with and which areas they are looking at to help officers avoid mental and physicals issues.
"I'm taking a whole holistic approach at it, my main emphasis is the mental aspect, but why are officers having a lot of mental issues? One of them is, myself, your body starts breaking down, you have several injuries, you have chronic pain which leads to mental issues that you're trying to hide, can't do what you used to be able to do. There's exterior issues, what's going on in the community."
Brown talked about the statistics as it relates to police officers and how they are more likely to commit suicide and have heart attacks at 49, the average heart attack happens over 65.
There also several medical experts that Brown said the police department is consulting to assess the health and wellness of their officers.
Fire Chief Thomas Solberg spoke to council about the unique issues that firefighters deal with, how they, unlike police officers, are able to talk with one another after dealing with fires, and the use of a peer support program.
Council member Amber Pollock asked Solberg about the use of the peer support program, who said that people are using the program, but that there is still some stigma associated with it.
Tracey Belser, Support Services Director for the city, said that there are several mental health services available for city employees, and that virtual appointments that employees can make helps to improve usage of those services.
Belser said that it can be hard, especially among male dominated departments, for people to open up to have conversations about these difficult topics.
Vice Mayor Ray Pacheco said the council wants to do what it can to support the police department with any tools they may need.
Mayor Steve Freel said some people may not understand the stress that law enforcement and first responders deal with that leads to mental issues.
"When you make the call to them, you're generally at your weakest time, you're showing weakness and needing their help. They all come to you, and they know you can't show weakness, they gotta take of what your problem is. And they leave that and, especially in law enforcement, leave that to take care of the next person and the next person and it builds up over time."