Utah may extend mental health care to spouses of first responders.

Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, notes the tragedy Nate LydayFive cops quit their jobs after their spouses pleaded with them to find new jobs when they talked about the new mental health services bill.

Lyday, a second-generation police officer, was shot while responding to a domestic violence call in 2020. He had been with the Ogden Police Department for 15 months.

“I was doing studies and looking at the data, and a lot of (people) were self-medicating with alcohol … and two-thirds of the department was classified as ‘at-risk’ and one-third,” Wilcox said. He was ‘actively at risk’ for suicide.

Emergency services and policing will create significant stress for years to come, not only for first responders, but also for their families.

In 2022 Utah passed the law Allowing first responders and their families free access to mental health professionals and other mental health resources. But it did not include spouses of retirees.

Wilcox is now looking to change that.

HB59 Provides mental health services to spouses of retired law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, firefighters, dispatchers, corrections officers, CSI technicians and search and rescue personnel.

The bill would also include forensic interviews and Internet Crimes Against Children task force members to list recipients of mental health resources as well as their families and spouses of retired members.

Current law does not allow spouses of retired first responders to use mental health resources available to retirees and their families. Essentially, once a first responder retires, their access to mental health services is terminated and they are no longer available to their spouse.

“We’re losing so many to suicide, and we’re losing so many family members not only to suicide, but to divorce,” Wilcox said.

Heidi Evans, wife of a retired Iron County Sheriff’s Department detective, and Lt. David Evans shared her experience.

“The unsung heroes in the background are (the first responders’) families,” Evans said.

Evans described her own struggles.

“I was there watching my husband pass away from PTSD,” she said. “Maybe I could have some help. I always try to put my best face forward, but sometimes we fall apart and need an outlet.

Evans said it’s important to simplify mental health care for first responders, their families and others. She says mental health is reaching a point where it is not taboo.

The bill also creates “regular and continuing” appointments for first responders and their families, including retirees and their spouses.

According to Wilcox, the program creates routine checks for billed customers within 24 hours of a critical incident.

“It takes more than one or two sessions for someone to agree with this therapist, so regular checkups are needed,” Evans said. Mental health professionals need time to diagnose, treat and manage the symptoms a person may be experiencing, she said.

“I think it’s great that people are looking out for first responders and their families,” she said. “After retirement, that’s when they need it the most.”

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