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Boreal Community Media

Heroes Helping Heroes: Nonprofit tackles PTSD in first responder community

Jul 28, 2021 06:31AM ● By Editor

Photo Credit: Cpt. Jordan Korzenowski, FishNorthMN

By Bonney Bowman of KBJR-TV - July 27, 2021

On a beautiful day on Lake Superior, group of fishermen are reeling in their catch and releasing stress from a difficult job.

"After 14 and a half years of being a police officer with Minneapolis, I was diagnosed with PTSD in the summer of 2020," said Chris Stewart, the founder of Heroes Helping Heroes.

He started the nonprofit organization back in March.

It's already statewide, hosting events like fishing trips for first responders.

"We based a lot of our research for the foundation off of military research, military PTSD, and there's article after article about fishing and stuff like that," said Stewart.

Chris Stewart, Heroes Helping Heroes Founder

According to experts, 30% of first responders develop mental health disorders, including depression and PTSD. That's compared to 20% of the general population.

Even more concerning, studies show 37% of fire and EMS personnel have contemplated suicide, compared to less than four percent of American adults.

"We're just supposed to push it down, push it down, and after so long there comes a breaking point," said Stewart.

That breaking point is what a day on the water is helping the first responders avoid.

On this trip there are 25 of them on six boats, catching fish and sharing experiences.

"Just forget about the jobs that we do and be able to just relax and have some fun," said Duluth Police Investigator Ryan Temple.

He jumped at the chance to get out on the water and meet people who've seen what he's seen.

"It doesn't matter if you're from a big city, a small city, a sheriff's department, we all experience the same stressors, the same types of calls," said Temple.

He thinks DPD is ahead of the curve when it comes to mental health, offering an on-staff therapist and a peer-support network for any officer struggling.

"It's a change from when I started 23 years ago. We've got a long ways to go. PTSD in law enforcement is finally being recognized but we've got a long ways to go," said Temple.

Support from the community can help.

Captain Jordan Korzenowski knows that. He and the other five captains on the trip all donated their time.

"They do a lot for us, and if there's issues with our friends and family then we want them to be healthy and well," said Korzenowski.

Healthy and well.

That's exactly what Stewart wants for current and former first responders. He said helping them heal is a way of finding healing himself.

"These professions take a toll on you whether you acknowledge it or not so if we can acknowledge it and start treating it, we can get these first responders to continue their careers in their professions," he said.

It's important to know the signs of someone struggling with PTSD.

They include difficulty sleeping, avoiding certain places, people, or things, extreme mood swings, pulling away from family and friends, and bringing a gun or weapon with them everywhere they go.

Stewart said Heroes Helping Heroes can connect first responders to resources that can help.

Click here to visit their website.

To watch the video version of this report and see related stories, follow this link to the KB JR-TV website.

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