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First Responders Discuss Their Mental Health In Spokane Valley

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Suicide has become more common in categories of people we’ve long considered strong and invulnerable, such as military veterans and police officers. That has caught the attention of people within those communities. Many are meeting today [Tuesday] in Spokane Valley to talk about their mental health and wellness.

Spokane Police Officer Stacy Flynn has been on the force since 1992 and it’s only been recently that he and his peers have paid attention to the hazards of being a first responder.

“I don’t think it would have been openly discussed several years ago," Flynn said.

But recent suicide numbers cited by Flynn are hard to ignore: 22 military veterans a day take their own lives. 167 police officers in the U.S. died by suicide last year, a number that may already be surpassed this year.

“I sought out more information and my wife and I attended a first responder conference. After the conference, I knew I was need of some maintenance, maybe an oil change or a tuneup before the overhaul," Flynn said.

He advocated for a conference in Spokane, open to police, firefighters, doctors, nurses and other first responders, as well as their spouses and military veterans.

Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl endorsed the idea.

“Our officers are expected to go out every day and respond to that trauma and make split-second decisions and potentially have those split-second decisions analyzed over the course of days and weeks and months. That adds a whole other level of stress that makes it very challenging for our first responders to leave work at work," Meidl said.

He says his department has not done what it could to help employees deal with the stresses of the job.

The conference, which wrapped up Tuesday, included first responders from eastern Washington and Idaho and as far away as Liberia in West Africa.

One note, the Idaho legislature this year approved a bill that allows first responders to file claims with the workers’ compensation program to cover the costs of counseling for post traumatic stress disorder related to their occupation.