This past Saturday marked the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. Since then, America’s schools have seen 11 mass shootings, including one in Texas — the Sante Fe High School shooting in May 2018. 

 Always, we think first of the victims and their families — and rightly so. But there’s little doubt that such events can traumatize anyone close to them. 

Whether it’s a mass shooting, child abuse cases or even Monday’s terrible plane crash here in Kerrville, which left six Houston residents dead, first responders must often face terrible events head-on. 

And it can take a toll.  

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that as many as 30 percent of first responders will develop behavioral health conditions and have a higher-than-average risk of depression and suicide. 

In 2017, the State of Texas conducted a study of mental health access and resources for first responders. 

The key findings from that report concluded that first responders, due to the very nature of their work, were at an increased risk of both health and mental health consequences, including Acute Stress Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

Compounding the issue, the study found that some first responders were hesitant to seek help due to stigmas unfairly associated with mental health issues. 

And the sheer size of the state and the relative lack of resources — a majority of Texas counties are designated as “Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas” — can make seeking help difficult. 

Fortunately, there is assistance available for these everyday heroes. 

In the wake of the study, efforts have been made statewide to help improve first responders’ access to readily available services. 

And across the Lone Star State, a number of foundations have stepped in to help. 

People like those behind Warriors Heart, a nonprofit based in Bandera that seeks to help active duty military personnel, veterans and first responders with treatment for a range of mental health and addiction issues. 

There’s also the Code Green Campaign, an initiative meant to raise awareness of mental health issues, substance abuse and suicide amongst first responders and Foundation 1023, an Austin-based group that offers confidential counseling, training and community awareness efforts.

Kerrville and Kerr County are blessed to have these professional, tenacious and highly skilled men and women keeping us safe. And in an ideal world, we’d all have the financial wherewithal to help those groups and organization who seek to help them. 

But awareness is free. So thank a first responder. Respect their sacrifices. Have one in your life? Cherish them. And try to imagine the stress and strain they’re under next time you interact with one — even if you’re signing a ticket at the time.

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