‘It’s time to talk about mental health’

Eleven Minnesota organizations launch campaign to support public safety professionals suffering from PTSD

Minnesota public safety professionals reporting to have PTSD is escalating.

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Eleven Minnesota organizations launched a partnership today to bring attention to the record number of firefighters and law enforcement officers in Minnesota who are leaving the workforce due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Titled MN Public Safety Wellness Initiative, the campaign represents a cross-section of public safety, mental health and government groups that wants to promote mental wellness across Minnesota’s public safety profession. The group believes that increased awareness and legislation could help solve this crisis and provide public safety professionals with the education and support they deserve.

“Public safety professionals are regularly exposed to traumatic events and many barriers prevent them from getting the support they need to heal and get back to serving their communities,” said D. Love, League of Minnesota Cities board president and Centerville mayor. “It’s time to talk openly about mental health in public safety and create support systems that make our communities stronger.”

MN Public Safety Wellness Initiative comprises the League of Minnesota Cities, Metro Cities, Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota, Minnesota Association of Small Cities, Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association, Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, Minnesota Inter-County Association, Association of Minnesota Counties, and Government Human Resource Professionals (TUG).

“PTSD is real and serious, but in most cases, treatment and ongoing support should not result in a duty disability retirement,” said Jeff Potts, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. “We need to reduce the stigma in our profession that PTSD is a sign of weakness, empower public safety professionals to ask for help, and proactively give them the support they deserve.”

The number of Minnesota public safety professionals struggling with mental wellness is escalating. The number of duty disability applications filed by Minnesota public safety professionals has more than doubled since 2019 (118 in 2019; 307 in 2021), and 80% of these applications are PSTD-related. The average age of public safety PTSD claimants in Minnesota since 2013 is 42 years. Mental health experts say that PTSD is treatable and recommend that people with PTSD return to work when they are healed. Maintaining normalcy and productivity helps people feel fulfilled and can aid the treatment process.

“PTSD is a treatable condition, but without treatment it can be chronic and debilitating,” said Dr. Margaret Gavian, licensed psychologist and founder of Blue Peak Consulting who specializes in treating trauma for those in high-stress occupations. “We need to eliminate the stigma that keeps them suffering in silence, provide more education, intervene earlier, and treat it and other mental health conditions just the same way we would any physical injury obtained on the job.”

In addition to the physical and mental toll it takes on public safety employees, increased retirements due to PTSD are contributing to public safety workforce shortages and hurting city budgets. Public safety professionals diagnosed with PTSD can claim workers’ compensation benefits, collect a lifetime duty disability pension and have their medical insurance costs paid until they turn 65. MN Public Safety Wellness Initiative believes these are important, taxpayer-paid benefits, but many communities cannot afford the rate at which claims are increasing.

“I’ve been in the firefighting profession for more than 30 years, and I’ve seen PTSD treatment work for many of my colleagues,” said Rick Loveland, northern district vice president of the Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters and captain for the Moorhead Fire Department. “We need to provide better, earlier help so they can stay on the job and serve their communities.”

Minnesota’s current system does not encourage treatment for public safety professionals diagnosed with PTSD. Through programs, such as peer support programs within Minnesota departments, there is an opportunity to reduce the stigma and provide care to public safety personnel to help prevent PTSD. To learn more about this issue, visit the League of Minnesota Cities’ PTSD and Mental Health Toolkit for public safety personnel.