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Cedar Hill Fire Department Leads Mental Health Program For First Responders

CEDAR HILL (CBSDFW.COM) — Local experts say more police and firefighters are dying from suicide than they are in line of duty incidents nationwide — confronting the mental health crisis among first responders.

But a groundbreaking program launching in North Texas looks to address the stress and trauma that comes from saving others lives.

It's called the "first responder resiliency program" and Cedar Hill Fire Department is leading the effort. However, it will be open to police, firefighters and dispatchers in eight surrounding cities, all to make sure first responders are equipped to address any mental health concerns.

Veteran Cedar Hill Fire Captain Jason O'Neill is speaking out in defiance of what he calls the "macho stereotypes" that, for too long, kept first responders silent and suffering.

"We see the worst in peoples' lives, and we're supposed to just shrug it off and move on, and it accumulates," O'Neill said. "We need to know that it is okay to have normal emotions about things that are abnormal."

And now, mental health support for first responders in the area will be normal. Funded in part by a state grant, the program will also include training for families.​

Cedar Hill Fire Chief Kevin Cunningham said the program is the most important thing he's ever done. ​

"It's going to do great things... It truly is. This program — it's going to save a life, it's going to save a marriage, it's going to save somebody from alcohol or drugs abuse," Cunningham said.

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