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Tri-State Peer Support Team aims to decrease suicide among first responders

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Posted at 6:46 AM, Dec 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-18 15:00:50-05

CINCINNATI — Jo Terry will always remember her husband as a great partner, dad and firefighter.

Chip Terry, a firefighter with the Covington Fire Department, suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. He loved serving the community, Jo said, but even in his retirement, he couldn’t escape the trauma of the job.

He died by suicide in 2017.

“Babies in body bags, drownings, a family that died in a fire … his memories that kept him up at night,” Jo said.

Firefighters and law enforcement officers are more likely to die by suicide than from a line-of-duty death, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

That’s why the Hamilton County Fire Chief’s Association created The Tri-State Peer Support Team. The peer group, which started Wednesday, helps identify and address mental health concerns among first responders.

According to the American Addiction Centers, first responders often have "higher rates of mental illness, including substance abuse, addiction, and suicide," when compared to other adults.

Rather than get treatment, many first responders are either in denial of their trauma, are afraid of the stigma around mental health issues, are afraid of losing their jobs or believe treatment won't work.

"That's totally unacceptable," Colerain Township Fire Battalion Chief Steve Conn said. "We got to do something more for each other."

Over 150 agencies from the Tri-State are coming together to support the team to change the culture around mental health issues so people feel more comfortable asking for help.

Jo Terry hopes the group teaches first responders that it’s OK to reach out and ask for help.

“The walk he took knowing what he was going to do and how alone he had to feel, and I just can’t bear the thought of another first responder suffering like that,” she said.

If you or anyone you know is in crisis, click here for a list of phone numbers to reach out to for help.

Click here for more information about the Tri-State Peer Support Team.