In response to the COVID pandemic, 911 for 911, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of first responders, is launching an emergency fund to support the COVID Telehealth Program. This program allows for any first responder to receive free, immediate, on-demand counseling via a telehealth platform. Eligible clients include EMT paramedics, police officers, firefighters, 911 operators, dispatchers, SWAT negotiators, ICU nurses and staff, emergency physicians, emergency room staff, and coroners.
Based in Northern Colorado, 911 for 911 partners locally with culturally competent, licensed therapists who have themselves been first responders, providing a unique, in-depth understanding of the first responder experience. It is our goal to ensure that no first responder who reaches out for help is turned away. First responders, situated on the front lines of the COVID crisis, are being challenged in unprecedented ways, both mentally and physically. They risk exposure to the virus by responding to 911 calls of ill COVID-positive patients and interacting with the public, often without adequate personal protective equipment or supplies. The fear of unknowingly bringing the virus home to families—or having already exposed them—permeates daily life.
In hot spots across the country, first responders are being forced to make life-and-death decisions based on shortages of hospital beds, ICUs, and ventilators. Northern Colorado has not hit the peak of its cases, yet the stress of the crisis continually intensifies for those working on the front lines. Even for a profession adept at navigating extremely stressful and life-threatening situations, this pandemic is imposing an unimaginable level of stress on our first responder community.
In normal times, the first responder community experiences a suicide rate at 20% that of the general population, linked closely to compounded trauma resulting in PTSD within the population. A 2017 survey revealed that 85% of first responders experienced symptoms related to mental health issues, and 34% had received a formal mental health disorder diagnosis. Access to counseling services can make a tremendous impact on the mental health and well-being of a person in crisis. First Responder Trauma Counselors—our counselor partners on the front lines— have already seen a 300% increase in calls over the initial weeks of the crisis; and we anticipate the need for counseling to continue to skyrocket.