Prioritizing mental health is important for everyone, but in some professions, stress can really affect that. For first responders and their experiences while on the job, it can be hard to maintain mental health as a priority.

Last week, the T-6 Advanced Traning & Career Development group came to Billings for their “Getting Through the Grind” Workshop hosted by the Billings Police Department. T-6 is a nonprofit group helping first responders handle job related stressors. The workshop was also offered in Helena and Kalispell. “Getting Through the Grind” was taught by local first responders who speak form experience of battling mental health difficulties.

In a press release, Jessie Holton, lead instructor and cofounder of T-6 said suicide is the number one killer for law enforcement officers. High divorce rates and alcohol abuse are also common as well as a low officer retention rate. T-6 plans to change that for law enforcement and all first responders. During the two day workshop, first responders were encouraged to find hobbies to help them de-stress from work like gardening, painting, fishing, etc.

The Montana Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) Peer Support Network is a new peer support group helping officers talk with others about how they are feeling. Statistics found on the Networks facebook page says police officers with a 20-year career will experience 800 critical accidents whereas an average person has about one to two critical accidents in their life.

Back in May 2022, the Billings Fire Department hosted a resillience and peer support program tuaght by the International Associaiton for Fire Fighters. The association has several mental and behavorial health resorueces for those who are in Fire Service. Since fire fighters, EMTs and parademics go through traumatic events, these resources can have a cummulative impact on mental health and well-being.

“It’s reassuring to know our first responders are getting the mental health support they deserve. Considering Montana has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, this concept of peer support is long overdue,” said Victoria Hill, Public Information Officer for the City of Billings. She adds that the city of Billings also offers an employee assitance program through St. Vincent Health Care. Employees and thier dependents on the city health and meidcal insurance plan recieve free counseling sessions when needed.

Mental health is essential for everyone and Billings has done a great job at showing how true that is.