Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, cites the tragic case of Nate Lyday, which led five police officers to leave their jobs because their spouses begged them to find new careers, when talking about his new mental health services bill.
Lyday, a second-generation police officer, was shot while responding to a domestic violence call in 2020. He had been on the job at the Ogden Police Department for 15 months.
Wilcox said he was “doing studies and looking at the data, and there were a lot of (people) who were self-medicating with alcohol … and almost two-thirds of the department was classified as ‘at risk’ and one third was ‘actively at risk’” for suicide.
Emergency services and police work causes high stress for years to come that impacts not only first responders but their families as well.
In 2022, Utah passed legislation that granted first responders and their families free access to mental health professionals and other mental health resources. But it didn’t include retirees’ spouses.
Wilcox is now looking to change that.
HB59 would provide mental health services for spouses of retired law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, firefighters, dispatchers, correctional officers, CSI technicians, and search and rescue workers.
The bill also adds forensic interviewers and members of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force to the list of recipients for mental health resources, as well as their family and retired member’s spouses.
Current law does not permit retired first responders’ spouses to use the mental health resources available for retirees and their families. Essentially, once a first responder retires, their access to mental health services is revoked and no longer available to their spouses.
“We’re losing far too many to suicide, and we’re losing far too many family members, not just to suicide, but to divorce,” Wilcox said.
Heidi Evans, spouse of retired Iron County Sheriff’s Department detective and Lt. David Evans, shared her experience.
“The unsung heroes behind (first responders) are the families,” Evans said.
Evans described her own struggles.
“I was there watching my husband go through PTSD,” she said. “Maybe I should have some help. I have always tried to put my best face forward, … but sometimes we break down and need an outlet.”
Evans said it’s important to destigmatize mental health treatment for first responders, their families and others. It’s getting to a point where mental health is not as taboo, she said.
The bill also creates “regular and continuing” appointments for first responders and their families, including retirees and their spouses.
Wilcox said that the program creates routine checkups for those covered in the bill within 24 hours of a critical incident.
Evans said regular checkups are needed because “it takes more than once or twice for a person to be comfortable with that therapist.” Mental health professionals need time to diagnose, treat and manage symptoms a person may be experiencing, she said.
“I think it’s great that people are looking out for first responders and their families,” she said. “After they retire is when they need it most.”