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'Grieving heart': Fayette County mourns firefighter's death by suicide

"It is with a grieving heart that we announce the passing of Lieutenant Ed Sherwood," the Fire/EMS service wrote.

FAYETTE COUNTY, Ga. — Fayette County is mourning the loss of a firefighter after his death by suicide, announcing Tuesday night "with a grieving heart" the loss of fire Lt. Ed Sherwood.

The county's Department of Fire and Emergency Services said on Facebook that Sherwood "took his own life this weekend."

"It is with a grieving heart that we announce the passing of Lieutenant Ed Sherwood," the Fire/EMS service wrote. "Suicide is a tragic reality among our men and women of public safety and military service. Please keep the family in your prayers. Please keep us in your prayers."

Credit: Fayette County Department of Fire and Emergency Services

Many commenters on the Facebook post expressed their condolences.

"How absolutely heartbreaking! I hope there are resources for our First Responders," Sierra Pyron wrote. "They carry such a heavy load. The suicide rates of First Responders are terrible. Thank you for speaking his truth and lifting the stigma. Talking about it is a great step in preventing another!"

According to a 2018 Ruderman Family Foundation report, 11 percent of firefighters experience depression, compared to 6.7 percent of the general population, and nearly half have reported having thought about suicide in the past.

Fire departments, police departments, the military and other public safety agencies around the country are trying to reverse rising suicide rates.

RELATED: Police departments confront 'epidemic' in officer suicides

Data released by the U.S. military last month showed suicide rates were up in three of the four branches in the last year.

"I wish I could tell you we have an answer to prevent further, future suicides in the Armed Services. We don't. We are caught up in what some call a national epidemic of suicide among our youth," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said.

And in New York City, the NYPD has seen nine officers this year die by suicide, prompting the department to explore how to bring the psychological well-being of officers to the forefront.

"This was something that no one ever spoke about," NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said. 

According to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate among officers is about 14 percent higher than the general population.

"If a cop breaks his leg, everybody's going to sign his or her cast and say, 'I wish you good luck,'" Mark DiBona, a retired patrol sergeant in Florida who once contemplated suicide, told the AP. "Nobody's going to sign your forehead when you say, 'I'm struggling.'" 

The 2018 Ruderman report notes that more recently "people are paying attention to the issue of firefighter mental health" and that "the time is now to expand this conversation to the larger community."

"This will help erase the stigma around mental health," the report's authors write. "So that our heroes feel comfortable accessing the help that they so desperately need."

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. The National Crisis Textline is available by texting "HOME" to 741741. 

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