MISSOULA - It is a topic that we often don’t hit on: the mental health of our first responders.
“We don't get to choose what we get to go to," said Missoula Police Department Lt. Sean Manraksa. "And we don't choose how that affects each and every one of us individually.”
Manraksa and other first responders see the worst in humanity. And after 18 years of serving on the force, drawing from his own personal struggles of what he’s seen in the field, Manraksa wants others to know they aren’t alone.
And that was the birth of the Throw-A-Thon; a 24-hour event aimed at raising awareness and money to help fund mental health resources for first responders.
“We give them a unique pathway where they can call a phone number in confidence, it's outside the city or the county, nobody knows about it," said 911 At Ease International co-founder Mike McGrew. "And then we get them lined up with a culturally competent therapist.”
McGrew was a police officer for 31 years and started 911 At Ease International as a mental health resource after dealing with his own trauma from the job. The group has helped more than 5,000 first responders since its launch in 2014 — a need that they have only seen increase.
“During the pandemic, there was a really big uptick and just a lot of issues that people didn't think about as the first responders were out putting themselves in harm's way," McGrew told MTN News. "It wasn't just him anymore, they were they were putting their family in harm's way.”
Manraksa echoed a similar sentiment, emphasizing how first responders are human too.
“No matter what you may you put in these scenarios, they're gonna have some residual effects and it's gonna affect their mental health, variety of different ways because everybody's resiliency is different based on their own life experiences, "Maraksa told MTN News. "And even if people think that we're supposed to be tough and strong, we're still human."
The Throw-A-Thon helps get the community involved in the conversation about first responder mental health.