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Group reminds others help is available after multiple first responder suicides in Washington

An organization working to improve mental health in the public safety field want their first responder colleagues to know they don’t have to struggle alone.

SEATTLE — After multiple first responder suicides over the past month in Washington, public safety professionals are reminding one another about resources available to help them handle the stresses of their jobs.

The Pierce County Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 726 union posted a tribute on its Facebook page, honoring two lives lost.

“In the past few weeks two brothers from our state have taken their lives from wounds that were not visible, we need to stop the stigma,” the group wrote in the post.

“There's hope and there's help,” said Shawn Thomas, the founder of 1st Responder Conferences, an organization that works to improve the emotional and physical health of public safety professionals.

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Thomas, who is a King County Sheriff's Office deputy, organizes the conferences in cities nationwide.

She said she knew of four Washington first responders who took their own lives over the past several weeks.

1st Responder Conferences pulls together police, fire, military, 911 dispatchers, EMS, and anyone working in public safety for honest discussions about the stresses they face on the job.

“You start seeing or responding to all of these horrible scenes or calls and I think that's when things start kicking in and start bothering you,” Thomas explained.

The next 1st Responder Conference will be in Spokane on October 21-22. A Seattle conference is scheduled for December 5-6.

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“A lot of times we have speakers that share their own personal stories and people will come up to us and say, ‘Hey, that’s me, I see myself in that person,’” Thomas said.

One of the resources she directs Washington first responders to is Code 4 Northwest, a free and confidential crisis response helpline just for public safety professionals and their families. It can be reached at 425-243-5092.

If you or someone you know is struggling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7.

Also see | Gatherings focus on mental wellness of Puget Sound first responders

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