It takes a special kind of person to answer that initial call for help, run toward the fire, face down the gun, work to keep someone alive… and do it day-after-day-after-day. As a community, we are grateful for those whose calling is to serve and protect us in dangerous, potentially life altering situations. But do we fully understand the price our first responders pay for being willing to do this?
The answer to these questions; probably not. Why not? There is no one answer. It is a complicated conversation and not one entered into easily. When the opportunity arose locally, it came through a unique collaboration between our local first responder network and an international film festival.
In 2022, the Hendricks Family Foundation was approached by the local director of the 911 Communications Center regarding an about-to-be-released documentary called PTSD911. The film’s focus was to explore the struggle of emergency first responders who battle post-traumatic stress but are often afraid of the very real threat of losing their job if they ask for help. The trailer for the film was powerful. The question at-hand; could this documentary be a tool to start conversation within the local first responder network and raise community awareness about these issues?
Sometimes the Foundation’s work is about providing financial resources. Other times, it is more about creating connections. In contemplating the question above, our work was a bit of both; and it started with a call to the Beloit International Film Festival. That call ultimately resulted in a unique collaboration between the Festival and a small group of Rock County public safety and mental health representatives to develop and implement the BIFF-PTSD911 Project.
Project activities focused on two screenings of PTSD911, including a panel discussion and mental health support, as part of the 2023 Beloit International Film Festival. The director of the film and three first responders featured in the film attended the festival to participate in the screenings and panel discussions with along with local first responders. Local mental health representatives, comfort dog organizations and other support providers were all on-hand to offer support as needed and increase awareness of their services. First responder attendees were able to participate free of charge.
Activities were well-received, with screenings at capacity and almost twice as many first responder attendees participating as anticipated. The project not only brought awareness to the public, but stimulated additional conversation between public safety agencies and mental health representatives in Rock County. A small group of mental health & public safety representatives continues to meet to discuss next steps. The group has been exploring the possibility of combining current peer support teams within the county to collaborate with the Rock County chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) to create a countywide or regional peer support team similar to one mentioned in the film.
The initial project had such a powerful impact on the community that it created enthusiastic interest on the part of several public safety agencies and local officials not able to attend the initial screenings to request an additional screening. A free follow-up public screening of the film, with a panel discussion by local first responders and onsite mental health support, is planned for First Responder Appreciation Day.
The PTSD911 Project has proven to be a catalyst for action in Rock County, bringing awareness to and ending the stigma of asking for help within the first responder community. The unique collaboration between mental health and public safety leaders and the Beloit International Film Festival has created a meaningful opportunity to recognize and support the challenge and sacrifice undertaken by those who serve selflessly to keep our community safe and strong.