San Diego

Board Approves Free, Confidential Mental Health Services for First Responders

The County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve a program that would provide free and confidential mental health services to San Diego's first responders. 

The program is named after San Diego Cal Fire Capt. Ryan J. Mitchell, who died by suicide after working 19 days straight in November 2017. At the meeting Tuesday, Mitchell's father, William -- who is now a Cal Fire Chaplain -- accepted a proclamation in his son's honor. 

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said he proposed the program due to a startling 2018 study that found more first responders died by suicide than in the line of duty. 

Fletcher said first responders do have access to behavioral health services through their departments but the stigma associated with reaching out for help may prevent some from doing so. 

"First responders across San Diego County in the midst of a mental health crisis will be able to quickly access clinician assistance confidentially without the barriers that today are preventing them from getting the help they need," Fletcher said in a statement praising the board's decision.

Through this program, first responders would be able to call a phone line or use a website or app to get linked to a licensed clinical professional. The goal is to partner with a non-profit and use resources outside of the government agencies to make sure that confidentiality is kept.

"I can't promise you that if this program is successful we're going to catch every single person, but we're going to try," Fletcher said.

The board will need to realign the county's 2019-20 fiscal budget to include $450,000 in funding for these mental health services. An additional $650,000 would need to come from the 2020-21 fiscal budget. 

More than a third of the 2019-20 budget, approved in June, supports Health and Human Services programs, including substance abuse, homelessness and staffing for those programs. 

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher announced a program to help first responders who say there is a stigma when getting the help they need. NBC 7’s Alex Presha has the story.

If you or someone you know is feeling depressed or suicidal please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). The lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress as well as prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones. 

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