An Austin-area couple is trying to break the stigma around mental health and first responders. Temple and Fiona Thomas are both paramedics.
“I grew up in the culture of ‘suck it up, buttercup. Get back in service and move on,’” said Temple. But after a career spanning over three decades, he knew something was wrong.
“I had realized that in the last few years, I was quicker to anger. I was having some emotional outburst -- both sometimes [in] anger, sometimes getting emotional over something as simple as a sappy commercial,” he recalled.
Four years ago, Temple was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
“It was actually kind of a relief to realize there’s something going on here,” he added. “It’s not just coming out of the blue.”
The realization came during a conversation with Fiona when he was recounting one of his first calls – a young man in the Houston area had hung himself.
Fiona says the amount of detail Temple remembered was another red flag.
“It was a pretty jarring call for a young medic, really for any medic, to see. So, that one just stuck with me – all the parts of it,” Temple told FOX 26.
“It was relatively easy to recognize what was going on. The harder part was to get him to realize what was,” Fiona said.
At that moment, she says Temple understood he needed help. She helped found the national nonprofit Code Green Campaign when she and fellow paramedics realized they all knew a colleague who had committed suicide.
She says, compared to the general population, first responders have higher rates of suicidality.
The organization works to gather mental health and suicide statistics on first responders and share mental health resources. It’s website also serves as an outlet for first responders to share their mental health struggles anonymously.
The couple says it’s not only the high trauma calls that can affect them, but also the culmination of routine calls through the years.
“Anybody feels that when they reach out for help, that they’re showing a sign of weakness because somebody else needed us. If I need them, then I must be weak,” explained Temple.
However, getting help changed Temple’s life. He says Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, treatment got him to finally process those memories he had carried for so long.
“I realized that I had never effectively processed these thoughts and feelings to basically put them in the long term memory and put them in the past,” he said.
Fiona recommends having a gradual conversation with a loved one who appears to show signs of PTSD and letting him or her know, they’re in it together.