FRANKLIN COUNTY, Va. (WFXR)– Every day first responders across the nation are exposed to injury, death, and grief. This daily exposure coupled with other pressures and expectations of the job can lead to emotional trauma.
If the emotional trauma is not addressed it can result in serious mental health issues.
In 2017 alone, more firefighters and police officers died by suicide than on the line of duty. These were just cases reported.
Jonathan Smith, a Franklin County man who has worked as a first responder for many years has personally experienced the pain of losing a friend to mental health issues.
On fathers day weekend of 2018, his friend of 13 years, and fellow volunteer, Robbie Dent took his own life. Robbie is described as a “do anything for everybody” kind of man, but he forgot to take care of one -person in particular, himself.
When Smith lost his friend he started seeking answers. He says research suggests that first responders are ten times as likely as the average citizen to deal with mental health issues.
Smith wanted to do something about it.
In August 2018, I decided it was time to make a difference and started the organization, Put a Dent in Mental Health.Jonathan Smith, Executive Director – Put a Dent in Mental Health
The name of the organization, a tribute to Robbie.
When you asked Robbie to help you do something he kind of laughed and joked and said you just need to put a dent in it. So, that’s what we’re trying to do is put a dent in statistics and the numbers in mental health for first responders and just mental health in general.Jonathan Smith, Executive Director – Put a Dent in Mental Health
Volunteer firefighter, Charles Bender has already benefited from the support of the organization. One day while traveling home from work he felt hopeless. He says he was recognizing the signs that his mental health was suffering, so he reached out to Smith.
It really saved me that day. If it hadn’t been for the people in my life, I wouldn’t be here today.Charles Bender, volunteer firefighter- EMS
Now, they want to bring even more awareness to first responder’s mental health and continue to help as many people as possible with the Light it Up Green Campaign.
They ask supporters to place a green light bulb or light where passers by can see it to show support and break the stigma of mental health issues for first responders or anyone who may need a sign of support.
They can see that green light and know that your home is a safe zone and it’s stigma free.Jonathan Smith, Executive Director – Put a Dent in Mental Health
Those interested are encouraged to take a photo of the green light they have placed in their homes or business with the hashtag, #LightItUpGreen.
If you or someone else is experiencing signs of mental health issues, click here for helpful resources.