Written by: Jessica Wilson, MA, ALC “I’m fine”. Two simple words and perhaps the most common phrase spoken amongst first responders. The truth is, you’re not “fine”. You’re hurting. You’re scared. You’re anxious. You’re depressed. You’re exhausted. You’re overwhelmed. You’re suppressing emotions. You’re losing control and on a path toward destruction. Your professional life is a wreck and your personal life is dysfunctional at best. You’re anything but “fine” and that denial can become dangerous, even deadly. This week, while thousands of first responders and their families gather to honor the officers killed in the line of duty last year, let us not forget the 156* officers who died in 2021 as the result of suicide (*based on confirmed reports). As a comparison, 64 officers died as the result of gunfire in the line of duty in 2021. These numbers suggest that things aren’t “fine”. There is a dark side in police work that is filled with (among other things) cynicism, anger, and hurt. It’s a cold and lonely place and while it’s not unnoticed, it’s often unspoken. Kevin M. Gilmartin, author of Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, noted, “although in many ways officers are winning the battle of street survival, they appear to be fatally losing the battle of emotional survival”. Simply put, we have to start prioritizing the mental health of all first responders. The profession requires you to be selfless, putting the needs of others before your own. Bravery is imperative, yet taking the steps to address your own mental health is often associated with weakness due to the stigma that still exists within society today. Thus, many choose to suffer in silence as a means of self-preservation, fearing negative consequences from reaching out for help. Therapy isn’t easy and those who seek counseling are far from weak. It takes strength and courage to own your stuff and face your demons. You’ll have to be vulnerable, which goes against everything you’ve learned. At Jenkins-Richardson and Associates, we have skilled counselors ready to support you and your family members. We’re here to walk with you through the darkness in a safe environment. We understand the job changes you, leaving both physical and emotional scars. Sometimes the weight gets heavy, but know that you don’t have to carry it alone anymore. We recognize therapy asks a lot of you and while it can be an uncomfortable and oftentimes difficult process, imagine a day when you can say “I’m fine” and truly mean it.