SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS (April 24, 2019) — The Illinois Public Pension Fund Association (IPPFA) has urged members of the Illinois House of Representatives to pass the First-Responders Suicide Prevention Act, a bill that would make mental-health services more accessible to those who regularly deal with traumatic situations and often suffer psychological issues as a result.
“First-responders attempt suicide at more than ten-times the rate of the general population. The responders are there for trauma victims, but they often have nowhere to turn when that trauma overwhelms them,” said IPPFA President James McNamee. “This legislation increases the availability of mental-health services for these everyday heroes, and removes many of the barriers that might make them reluctant to seek help.”
The Illinois Senate has passed Senate Bill 730, sponsored by Senator Terry Link, which creates the First-Responders Suicide Prevention Act. The legislation provides that any emergency-services or public-safety employee may refer any fellow first-responder for mental-health services through an employee assistance or peer-counseling program. If such a program is not available through the employee's agency, the legislation authorizes that help may be sought from any available mental-health assistance-program. Most importantly, the bill mandates that any oral or written information communicated during these mental-health sessions would be strictly confidential and could not be used in any judicial hearing, arbitration, or other adjudicatory proceeding.
The IPPFA drafted the bill two years ago. It was written by IPPFA members who are first-responders themselves, and the legislation gained steam following several recent first-responder suicides in Illinois. If passed by the House and signed by the Governor, it would become effective immediately.
“Budgets have been cut in recent years and first-responders have been put on the chopping-block to balance budgets,” McNamee said. “Crimes, fires, and other emergencies have not gone down, so we place more duties on fewer people, and those people need to have access to confidential help when they need it.”
While pushing for the passage of SB 730, the IPPFA has partnered with the Northern Illinois University Psychology Department to develop training for first-responder mental-health service-providers. This training will be accredited through the university and can be taught through the state's university-system.
A recent study by the Ruderman Family Foundation examined depression, post-traumatic stress-disorder, and other issues affecting first-responders and the rates of suicide in departments nationwide. The study determined that first-responder suicides outnumber all line-of-duty deaths in the United States, making it the number-one cause of death for firefighters, police officers, probation and corrections officers, and paramedics and ambulance personnel.
The IPPFA was founded in 1985 as a not-for-profit organization whose mandate was to educate public pension-fund trustees. In 2009 the IPPFA became the primary education-provider for public pension-fund trustees in the state of Illinois, and its members manage more than $18 billion in pension assets.
Retirement benefits are provided to police officers and firefighters through local pension-funds in Illinois. The funds are regulated by state law, but they are managed by local boards of trustees. There are 643 pension funds for police officers and firefighters in Illinois, 641 of them downstate and two in Chicago.