Agencies encourage first responders to ask for help

The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, with the help of emergency responders from Hillsborough County, launched an ad campaign Tuesday aimed at preventing first-responder suicides.

The new television ad features real first responders from the Tampa Police Department, Hillsborough Sheriff's Office, and Tampa Fire Rescue. It's called, "First to Respond, Last to Ask for Help."

"Campaigns like this help bring to the forefront that it's OK to not be OK. What's not OK is not asking for help," said Clara Reynolds, president and CEO of the Crisis Center. "Stigma is one of the biggest issues that we have in the mental health field. We have no problem talking about having high blood pressure or having diabetes, but when we say we're depressed or have anxiety, all of a sudden that is seen as some sort of personal weakness."

The launch of the initiative coincides with World Suicide Prevention Day. According to the Crisis Center, more first responders die by suicide than in the line of duty.

The ad urges first responders who are having suicidal thoughts to dial 211 so they can speak with a trained professional who can help them work through their emotions.

The news conference featured remarks from Megan Vila, whose brother, Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Stephen Ladue, took his own life two years ago.

"To this day, I still don't believe it and the most difficult thing we've ever been through as a family," Vila told FOX 13. "I miss him every day, but this initiative is amazing and it's almost bringing peace that I know that other first responders can come forward and now leadership is backing them. And that's huge." 

Suicide has hit the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office especially hard during the last year. Two deputies were responsible for murder-suicides.

Sheriff Chad Chronister is among the law enforcement leaders who jumped at the chance to help first responders who are struggling with emotional and psychological scars.

"Maybe those types of situations could have been prevented [if the deputies asked for help]," Chronister said. "You're torn apart when something like this happens and you're left wondering, 'Why? What could have been done differently?'"

The Crisis Center is hoping to expand the campaign to other communities. The long-term goal is to have a dedicated hotline for first responders. In the meantime, 211 is available to them and anyone else having suicidal thoughts.