WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. — There's a new program that provides mental health care for first responders struggling to cope with what they encounter on the job.
To give you some context, according to the Blue H.E.L.P, 40 current or former first responders in Colorado have died by suicide in the past six years.
"You really need to speak up, because there is that stigma,” said Andy Kaplan, a Marine Corps veteran who worked as a patrol officer with the Durango and Longmont police departments.
Kaplan said he struggled with mental health issues throughout his career. He didn't want to resign due to the stigma and was eventually let go in January 2022.
"With my PTSD from the military, I kind of just white knuckled it for 15 years. And then with law enforcement, even though I was OK with the stuff I was seeing, it was just adding to the trauma,” said Kaplan.
After he was fired, Kaplan found help through Mission Six, a mental health care program launched in April for first responders. The program is offered at West Pines Behavioral Health, which is part of Intermountain Health.
got help after that, and that's how he learned about a new program called Mission Six. It’s a mental health care program launched back in April just for first responders. It’s offered at West Pines Behavioral Health, which is part of Intermountain Health.
"We process a whole array of topics, so substance abuse, trauma, nutrition, sleep, hygiene, relationship difficulties,” said Elizabeth Groom, lead therapist.
Current or former first responders meet with Groom five days a week for six hours a day. Participants discuss a variety of topics and partake in a physical activity.
Groom said getting help is the first hurdle, but it's often stigmatized. Kaplan agrees, especially in law enforcement.
"I would say law enforcement is like 15 years behind in mental health compared to military and the rest of us,” said Kaplan.
Kaplan is thankful he got the help he needed. He graduated from Mission Six earlier this month.
"I've just been able to take care of myself better. I got a journal. I don't do yoga, but I definitely breathe and exercise. I just feel calmer,” said Kaplan.
Looking ahead to the future, Kaplan wants to become a pilot or get back into law enforcement. He offers this advice to other first responders who might be hesitant to get the help they need.
“Advocate for yourself,” said Kaplan. “It could save your job, save your relationships. It just teaches you to cope with the job better.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the program, Groom said you can contact her through West Pines Behavioral Health.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts, help is available immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached by calling or texting 988 at any time of day. Colorado Crisis Services can also connect individuals with local support and resources by calling 1-844-493-TALK.