LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Our first responders are expected to be just as mentally fit as they are physically, but in a field that can push the limits on post-traumatic stress, who's watching out for their mental health?
Without a safety net, many people in this field will face early retirement, termination or suicide. Kentucky House Bill 40 is trying to combat this with a new approach to mental injury on the job.
"Anybody that is doing that job out there on the streets every day is going to see some really rough things, at some point," Dr. Mike Freville, a psychologist with Louisville Metro Police said.
"At first, it's an adrenaline rush, and you're doing what you're trained to do, but afterwards, you get that emotional dump. You realized what just happened, what could've happened," Det. Patrick Allen, the FOP president for Shively Police said.
It's a daily struggle.
"There's nights you don't sleep because of things you've seen," Allen said.
Do you bury the nightmares or talk about them?
"You try not to dwell on everything you see and experience," Allen said.
Bottling those emotions isn't the solution and over the last year, many Police, Fire and EMS departments have begun to include chaplains, psychologists and other peer mentors who can be there for their colleagues, whether they're dealing with a physical or mental injury.
"We need to have a safety net," Dr. Freville said.
Right now, Kentucky law doesn't recognize a psychological injury the same as a physical one.
"It is a very real thing," Freville said.
That's where Rep. Joni Jenkins, from Kentucky's 44th District, comes in.
"We know that folks who have PTSD or past traumas, their physical health isn't as well, they can be hyper-vigilant and it affects their jobs as first responders," Jenkins said.
For the second year now, Jenkins has introduced a bill which would redefine injury when it comes to worker's compensation, adding mental injury for first responders.
"I think this is a great protection and certainly, would love for a day when no one would ever have to use this, but you know, horrible things happen."
She realizes budgets are tight.
"Certainly, local governments are always concerned about costs and workers' comp is a cost they have to provide for. My answer to that is, when we do things preventatively, we usually save more money in the long run. We know people having difficulties with mental illness and trauma tend to not do as well physically and we see a lot of absenteeism. Intervening early is going to give us a healthier first responder workforce," Jenkins said.
Dr. Freville works exclusively with LMPD, its civilian employees and their families.
"The focus now is on prevention," he said.
It's his job to support officers who've witnessed traumas, some resulting in severe PTSD.
"In my experience, the vast majority are able to rebuild," Dr. Freville said. "Let's treat the entire human being."
He's their safety net, but not every department has one and for different reasons.
"It's not just a financial commitment, it's an attitude commitment and it starts at the top. If a man or woman, in any department, doesn't have it in their mind, that 'this is real, we're not going to ignore it,' then nothing will happen," Dr. Freville said.
"Eyes are wide open on this very real situation. If we're going to demand the best, then we have to give them the best service and support."
House Bill 40 is up for debate right now, but it won't pass without your help. You can contact your Kentucky lawmakers here.
You can see more of our Stressed Into Silence series here.