COLORADO SPRINGS — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and If there is one thing the pandemic has brought into clear focus, is the need we all have across the board to be more aware of our mental health. Those who appear to be at higher risk now of mental health problems, are those in groups that were already at a high risk of mental health issues, like our first responders.
Status Code 4 Inc (SC4I) is a Colorado Springs based non-profit that works to heal our first responders' traumatic injuries even if they can’t afford it, and this new nonprofit is now being stretched to it’s limits.
Usually when you start a new business venture, growth is a good problem, and for SC4I the need they serve has grown exponentially over the last 2 years, and not being able to keep up with the demand from the clients they serve, could literally come at the cost of safety in our communities.
Dr. Daniel Crampton, PsyD, is the founder and COO of SC4I who works daily to help heal first responders, who are struggling with mental health issues. Dr. Crampton says the mission of keeping our first responders mentally well is critical for many reasons beyond their own well-being. “What if you called 911 and they didn’t show up?
Long before he founded SC4I, Dr. Crampton worked in Teller County as an EMT and paramedic and says he sees the current mental health struggles or first responders are dealing with from both sides. Dr. Crampton says, “A lot of the agencies across the board from law-enforcement, fire, and EMS have become so short staffed and are working a lot of overtime, so many of them (first responders) are experiencing burnout, so we want to help turn the tide.”
Deputy Miles DeYoung, with Custer County, is the former Chief of Police for Woodland Park, and volunteers as President of the Board of Directors for SC4I.
Dr. Crampton says, “One of the issues that we are running into is that we have seen about 120% increase of services because of COVID on the impact to our community and first responders. We have just about hit capacity (at SC4I) with what we’re able to do within our community and so we’re looking to expand our services and we are looking for additional resources.”
First responders have always been exposed on a daily basis to challenging situations. Matthew Bergland who currently serves as the Manager of Specialty Transport South Region and Flight Paramedic with UCHealth LifeLine in Colorado Springs also serves on the Board of Directors for SC4I.
Matt says as first responders, “We see all sorts of things on a daily basis. Typically we have the ability to have a thick skin.”
Miles explains, “You show up a call or car accident or at some crisis that people are going through and we are there to make that better.”
Dr. Crampton says, “First responders pride ourselves on being able to compartmentalize and think we can leave work at work and go home and nothing bothers us”.
But Miles explains that what experienced first responders have come to know is it all begins to take a toll. “Those calls upon calls upon calls can compound over the years and it gets tougher and tougher for some people to deal with it.”
It’s something Matt has experienced. “I came to feel that the chaos is where I felt comfortable and normal life is where I was uncomfortable. I didn’t even recognize it thank goodness for my wife. One day we were arguing about something and she said, ‘Why are you being such a jerk?’ and I responded, ‘I’m not being a jerk.’ Then I stepped back and realized she was right, and I wasn’t even aware of it.”
Dr. Crampton says he also has experience with the stress on his personal mental health, that call after call call took when he was a new father. “There were two years where my nickname on the ambulance became ‘Pediatric Dan’, because it seemed like every ugly pediatric call we got, bad RSV or traumatic accidents and pediatric deaths, and it seemed like I was the one getting them. All of that stuff has some pretty profound impacts on what a person has to deal with.”
When those various stressors begin to impact someone, it can show itself in many ways says Miles. “It’s going to affect your sleep, it’s going to affect your eating habits, your mood swings, your frustration. Sometimes it can turn into chemical dependency, drinking or using medications. Then, if a person hasn't’ figured out how to deal with things, it can be a downward spiral for some people.
A downward spiral that for too many of our first responders leads to suicide. According to SC4I, in Colorado from 2004 to 2020, 345 first responders took their own lives.
Matt says, “I can count on more than one hand how many of my friends who have taken their own life one way or another, because they couldn’t handle it and because they couldn’t cope with it. I want to get the message out there, I want people to understand that the stigma that has been with us (as first responders) for so many years does not have to be there.”
Miles says he has also lost first responder friends to suicide. “I have three friends of mine who are no longer here because of the situation they were in, and they didn’t get the help they needed at the time. I really wish that we had seen the warning signs, before ultimately they had all their coping mechanisms start to fail them and break down, and they thought that the only way they could move forward was by no longer living.”
And that brings into focus the mission of SC4I, helping first responders understand that it’s okay, not to feel okay. Matt says, “How important is it? It’s paramount. Mental health awareness and getting help when needed is the very first thing that we should teach EMT’s, paramedics, police officers and firefighters is to take care of yourself in healthy ways. There is no more important thing to do - in terms of how it is that we are capable of helping other people.”
The unique challenges of seeking mental health care is something Dr. Crampton also knows about first hand. “When I was going through some of the stuff that I went through on the ambulance resources were not available. So I talked to some trauma therapists but it was very expensive the co-pay was pretty high.
That’s one of the reasons Dr. Crampton says that over the years he was continuing his education, working on a doctorate in psychology so he could help other first responders through their struggles, no matter what. “When we got into developing the business plan for Status Code 4, we decided we wanted to go with a nonprofit route, because we didn’t want finances to stand in the way of first responders getting the help they needed.
Miles says that mindset from Dr. Crampton is why he is involved in helping SC4I how ever he can. “Dr. Crampton doesn’t care if you can afford his services or not - he’s going to get you the help that you need and that really resonates with me.”
Dr. Crampton’s background as a first responder that he also brings as a psychologist, helps him relate to his clients in ways other counselors without his experience simply can’t. That experience is something Matt knows is essential, because of his experience reaching out for mental health care through his employer's employee assistance program (EAP) at the time.
Matt says, “The person they connected me with had no idea how to help me. When I told the story of my experience that was giving me problems in detail she looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know how to help you.’ Which made my feelings of despair grow. That’s the genesis of SC4I, we’ve come to the realization and that no one can help us like ourselves. And thank God for Dan and Ann Crampton.”
Through 2021 SC4I provided over $500,000.00 in free trauma counseling to our first responders, saving lives in the process. Dr. Crampton says, “I had an EMS individual who was having suicidal ideations, no attempts but heavy ideations. He was walking out of the office one time and he turned and looked at me and said, ‘You know you were my last chance, you just save my life.’ And then he walked out.”
Which brings us back to the current problem for SC4I, the growing need of more first responders struggling with their mental health in so many ways, and Dr. Crampton only has so much time in a day to help.
Dr. Crampton says “We are at capacity. This last week I had 36 client hours and yesterday I had 10 in one day, that’s a lot. We are looking for counselors who have first responder experience to join us. So when our clients come in we can get them hooked up with somebody that knows what the job is like, so they don’t have to explain to the counselor what it’s like being a first responder. They can just fall right into the counseling and getting the help they need.
How can you help SC4I? Their needs are many and they include donations. Also, if you are a first responder in need of a listening ear who understands don’t hesitate to reach out. For more information about SC4I, and to help support this critical mission you can visit their webpage HERE. https://www.sc4i.org/