Two Florida deputies died by suicide within days of each other, leaving a newborn baby behind, in a case that shed light on the mental health issues that police officers and other first responders often struggle with, the Washington Post reports. St. Lucie County Deputy Clayton Osteen was taken off life support on Jan. 2. Deputy Victoria Pacheco, who shared a one-month-old son with Osteen, also had died by suicide. The deaths of the deputies, who Sheriff Ken Mascara described as “young, ambitious,” sent shock waves through the law enforcement agency. Mascara said he hoped the deaths bring attention to the many challenges officers face while on duty. “Law enforcement deals with not only the day-to-day stress we all face, but also the stress of those whom they serve in our community, which can sometimes be very challenging,” he said. “We pray that this tragedy becomes a catalyst for change, a catalyst to help ease the stigma surrounding mental well-being and normalize the conversation about the challenges so many of us face on a regular basis.” A 2020 Congressional Research Service report found that first responders experience several barriers to access mental health treatment, such as stigma, a culture of not seeking help and a general lack of knowledge about mental health and treatment. One study found that, on average, 1 in 3 first responders experiences stigma in relation to mental health. In another study, first responders described not feeling like they can “show weakness” and have fears of being perceived that they are not “up to the job” if they pursue counseling, the study found. The same research suggested first responders, are at an elevated risk of suicide, stating that the stressful work conditions first responders often experience “can contribute to the development of new mental health conditions or exacerbate preexisting mental health conditions.” “People don’t understand what we take home with us,” retired police officer Dana Bennett told WPTV-TV. “When one of us hurts, we all hurt.” Blue H.E.L.P., an organization publicizing mental health issues in law enforcement, recorded 969 suicides of police and corrections officers since 2017.
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