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TYLER, Texas (KETK) – The COVID-19 pandemic and recent civil unrest across the country is taking a toll on the mental health of first responders.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, before the pandemic, 30 percent of first responders developed behavioral health conditions including depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.

“Providing care to others during the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to stress, anxiety, fear, and other strong emotions. How you cope with these emotions can affect your well-being, the care you give to others while doing your job, and the well-being of the people you care about outside of work.”

CDC Guidance to first responders

Related: East Texans report anxiety, burnout during the pandemic

Jerry Page has been a Tyler police volunteer chaplain for 17 years. His job is to support East Texas officers struggling with burnout, stress or trauma. 

“We build a relationship that a lot of people just can’t get to, cause a lot of officers tend to stay to themselves,” Page says. “When they start talking to you and confiding into you, you realize that’s an honor. “

In 2019, the number of officers who died by suicide was double that killed in the line of duty. According to a Blue H.E.L.P study, 228 officers committed suicide last year, while 132 died in the line of duty. Texas ranked third with 19 suicides.

Tyler police say they never want their first responders to feel alone and have resources to help.

“Sometimes it’s listening to them talk. We talk about some of the things they have seen, the protesting, and I feel East Texas has been fortunate right now.”

Related: More Texans turning to online therapy programs during pandemic

The Code 9 Project is warning about this trend and is providing support to EMT’s, firefighters and law enforcement facing this mental health crisis. 

“Suicide is a reality,” Brandielee Baker, President and cofounder of the Code 9 Project says. “It is a rising epidemic within law enforcement and the military communities. It’s because they’re afraid to get help, it’s not encouraged to get help. It seems like a weakness.

The Code 9 Project provides a 24/7 hotline, peer support, and focuses on education.

“We are not educating our communities on what first responders or the military goes through on a daily basis, and how it effects mental health and the impact it has on the nervous system,” Baker says.

Tips on how to cope with stress:

  • Communicate with your coworkers, supervisors, and employees about job stress.
    • Talk openly about how the pandemic is affecting your work.
    • Identify factors that cause stress and work together to identify solutions.
    • Ask about how to access mental health resources in your workplace.
  • Remind yourself that everyone is in an unusual situation with limited resources.
  • Identify and accept those things which you do not have control over.
  • Recognize that you are performing a crucial role in fighting this pandemic and that you are doing the best you can with the resources available.
  • Increase your sense of control by keeping a consistent daily routine when possible — ideally one that is similar to your schedule before the pandemic.
    • Try to get adequate sleep.
    • Make time to eat healthy meals.
    • Take breaks during your shift to rest, stretch, or check in with supportive colleagues, coworkers, friends and family.
  • When away from work, get exercise when you can. Spend time outdoors either being physically activity or relaxing. Do things you enjoy during non-work hours.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting and mentally exhausting, especially since you work with people directly affected by the virus.
  • If you feel you may be misusing alcohol or other drugs (including prescriptions), ask for help.

Related: Mental health professionals train to treat PTSD in Texas

Chaplain Jerry added that just a simple “hello” or “thank you” can make a difference.

“You can see the pride swell up in them. I’ve seen children say thanks and it really makes their day.”

Jerry Page, Volunteer Police Chaplain

If you would like to reach out to the Code 9 Project hotline, their number is 844-HOPE-247.

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This is sponsored content by the Monsour Law Firm.