In the past week, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation has been called to central Ohio three times for officer-involved incidents.

What kind of toll does this take on officers?

Over time, officers can experience a phenomenon known as traumatic layering, where the brain stops processing trauma effectively. This is something the First Responders’ Bridge has seen too often.

“We hear about officer-involved shootings and know they are critical incidents, but we refer to it as death by a thousand cuts,” said Maureen Kocot, the director of development for First Responders’ Bridge.

According to the organization, a law enforcement officer can encounter as many as 700 critical incidents over a 25-year career—events that cause overwhelming stress. In contrast, the average person might experience only two to five such incidents in their lifetime.

“It’s heartbreaking, right? When you see an image of a projectile wedged in an officer’s vest, you realize it was not only a terrifying incident but also truly a life-or-death situation,” Kocot added.

If you ask most first responders how they’re coping after a traumatic incident, you’ll likely hear, “I’m fine” or “I’m good.” While this might be true at the moment, it doesn’t guarantee they will feel the same years later.

“I had a first responder put it best: ‘How can we help people in crisis if we’re in crisis?’ That’s why it’s so important to process trauma. They want to get back in their cruiser, back on the street, making a difference in their community,” Kocot emphasized.

Dr. Megan Schabbing, the medical director of Psychiatric Emergency Services with OhioHealth, notes that everyone experiences trauma differently.

“Experiencing something so traumatic can have immediate effects and long-term effects,” Schabbing said.

Officers might develop anxiety or, in more severe cases, post-traumatic stress disorder.

“You don’t have to live with that kind of suffering or emotional pain,” Schabbing added. “Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and don’t be embarrassed.”

The mission of the First Responders’ Bridge is to support all active and retired first responders and their loved ones. The organization promotes personal growth and healthy relationships.

According to the organization, more firefighters and police officers die by suicide than all line-of-duty deaths combined.

The bridge offers confidential and expense-free retreats, where attendees receive information about their health and wellbeing. The goal is to break the stigma and help first responders move from hurting to healing.

Their next retreat is scheduled for August 23 through August 25.