First responder families plead for mental health support on Beacon Hill

BOSTON — There was emotional testimony on Beacon Hill Thursday from families pleading for change.

They're the parents and spouses of people in law enforcement who took their own lives. These are conversation few are willing to have.

Lawmakers heard from families that have lost loved ones in law enforcement who took their own lives.

"I received a call to respond to a suicide," Chelsea Police Lieutenant Dave Betz explained.

At the scene, he found his son, David. The 24-year-old was just starting his career in law enforcement when he took his own life in 2017.

"I'm here to say firsthand that when I lost my son, it took a toll on me," Betz said. "And now part of his mission, through me vicariously, would be to advocate for more training."

Betz and others are pushing for mandatory training for all police to focus on mental health and the concerns about suicide. They told lawmakers stress builds up for officers and the time to deal with it is now.

"It basically could be a pressure cooker at times for some people who don't have an outlet and if we're supposed to deal with society's problems, we should have tools at our disposal to deal with our own," Lieutenant Betz said.

According to the local organization Blue Help, which tracks law enforcement suicides, there have been 106 across the country so far this year -- compared to 167 in all of last year.

"I am the widow of a state police captain," Janice McCarthy said. "He paced around for 45 minutes and then put a bullet into his chest."

McCarthy also shared the story of her husband, Paul, a former Massachusetts State Police trooper who killed himself in 2006 after struggling with post-traumatic stress stemming from car crashes on the job.

Mccarthy said training for officers is long overdue.

"We need to erase the stigma that surrounds seeking mental health illnesses," McCarthy said. "It's no different than a physical illness and it can be just as debilitating, if not more."

Lawmakers said they're eager to get this bill in front of the full house and they expect that to happen as soon as possible to help others still struggling.