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Veterans And First Responders Are At Risk For Suicide, New Initiatives Offer Help

Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, and Veteran suicide is a national concern
Senior Airman Aubrey White
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

National Suicide Prevention Week begins Sunday, and first responders and veterans are the focus of two local summits.

There were more than 6,000 Veteran suicides each year from 2008 to 2016 according to the Veterans Affairs National Suicide Data Report.

Pasco Hernando State College is hosting a public event on Monday that is focused on starting conversations about this epidemic.

“We want the community to be a part of this,” said Associate Dean Melanie Waxler. “The more people you have in the room to offer up their ideas and support, the more we'll be able to come up with a better plan for both counties to work together.”

The forum at PHSC’s West Campus will feature a panel that includes members of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and the VA as well as experts in mental health.

“We wanted to put together a forum so that people can have an open dialogue, to discuss what is leading up to these suicides, what our veterans need for support to make a different choice or to get the help they need in their lives,” said Waxler.

There will be a panel discussion from 9 to 10 a.m. followed by a breakout session from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Panel members will talk about more specific topics like opioid addiction, accidental overdoses and mental health.

“It's time to have these conversations,” said Waxler. “And we could not think of a better setting than an academic setting to host all of these amazing speakers and have these conversations.”

On Tuesday, , Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the Tampa Police Department and Tampa Fire and Rescue will be meeting to introduce a new initiative focused on prevention of suicide among first responders.

“Each of the agencies that are featured is going to be highlighting exactly what suicide means to them and their agency, maybe even some personal stories,” said Crystal Clark, Chief Communications Officer for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. “Sheriff Chad Chronister, one of the things he would like to talk about is Sgt. Jonathan Black.”

Black lost his daughter and several friends to suicide, according to Clark. He died of cancer a year ago.

According to Clark, Black was passionate about preventing suicide for his fellow first responders. He reached out to Chronister before his passing and told him he wanted to form a program that highlighted suicide prevention and how people in the law enforcement community can get help.

“We now have a program that's known as the that specifically works to get resources for deputies who are struggling mentally,” said Clark.

Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan will also speak at Tuesday’s event.

“We’re exposed to some very crazy things and traumatic events that can weigh on people,” said Dugan. “Our first responders especially, and I always worry about their mental health.”

Dugan pointed out that while some view firefighters, police officers and paramedics as heroes, they’re also normal people who may need help from time to time.

“They see some very traumatic events and it's sometimes hard for them to differentiate the real world and their personal world.”

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Erin O’Brien is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for summer 2019.