ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — Law enforcement officers in St. Lucie County continue to grieve the loss of two of their colleagues.
St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara announced Tuesday that two of his deputies took their own lives within days of each other.
It is bringing up a tough and important topic, asking what more can be done to help first responders navigate their stressful jobs.
Mascara said Deputy Clayton Osteen tried to take his life shortly before midnight on New Year's Eve. He was hospitalized, but family members decided to remove him from life support Sunday.
Mascara said a second deputy, Victoria Pacheco, took her life Tuesday in the wake of Osteen's death.
The two deputies shared a one-month-old son together.
Grief counselors spent several hours at the agency Wednesday.
"While it is impossible for us to fully comprehend the private circumstances leading up to this devastating loss, we pray that this tragedy becomes a catalyst for change, a catalyst to help ease the stigma surrounding mental well-being and normalize the conversation about the challenges so many of us face on a regular basis," Mascara said.
Mascara urges any law enforcement officers contemplating suicide to seek help through 211 or the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
The St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office said it provides mental health services through an employee assistance program.
Active and retired law enforcement officers are reacting to the deputies' deaths.
"To any kind of situation such as this, you're going to see mixed emotions. You know, you're going to see anger go to sadness, sadness go to anger. It's not being able to understand, why? Why didn't they reach out?" said Gene Saunders, the founder and CEO of Project Lifesaver International. "Why did they do this? And I think that's always going to be the question that's going to be asked in these kind of situations."
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 30% of first responders are affected by conditions like depression and PTSD.
"You can offer all of the services in the world. Getting people to take them, that's another story," Saunders said.
Saunders said some officers worry that speaking out about their struggles might create a backlash.
Some fear their struggles might become known through the agency or believe that the services simply won't work.
"Most of them seem to feel that if I ask for help it shows weakness and maybe they will judge me not fit to do this job because I have this emotional weakness that I can't even handle my own personal affairs," Saunders said.
The office of Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a Wednesday statement that his administration has taken steps to support first responders and to help all Floridians in crisis.
This includes first lady Casey DeSantis and the Florida Department of Children and Families announcing that nearly $5 million from the Federal Crisis Counseling Program would be distributed to provide crisis counseling services through Florida's network of 211 crisis helplines.
The first lady also recently announced $12 million in funding will go toward expanding mental health services for first responders.
The services, according to the governor's office, will connect first responders and their families with peers who are trained in offering information and supportive counseling.
Below are additional resources for first responders and law enforcement in need:
· Text to 741-741 for free 24/7 crisis counselor support
· Call 206-459-3020 for 24/7 confidential crisis referral for First Responders & Families
· Visit: Copline or call 1-800-267-5463
· Visit All Clear Foundation for more resources