SPECIAL REPORT: The Battle Behind the Badge - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

SPECIAL REPORT: The Battle Behind the Badge

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CENTRAL WISCONSIN (WAOW) -

More and more first responders are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

Research from the University of Phoenix indicates 85 percent have reported mental health issues, and one in three are formally diagnosed.

Joe Bartholomew was a firefighter in Aurora, Ill. He had a near-death experience on a call, which resulted in a severe case of PTSD.

"The best way to describe PTSD is if you think about something that scared you like someone came up behind you and scared you for real and you jumped," he said. "Now make that 100-fold."

He and his wife Liz now live in Oneida County. They moved to the Northwoods after they said his department treated him poorly after the incident.

Liz is now working on developing a "Responders Retreat," so firefighters, law enforcement and dispatchers can come together and address their mental health needs and debrief with people familiar with their line of work. 

Meanwhile, in Marathon County, agencies are also taking proactive approach to mental health. At the Wausau fire and police departments, senior officers now meet with families of new recruits, so the whole household knows what to expect. 

"So we say hey, here's some of the pressures that can be associated with this, or here's some of the things you want to look out for," said Capt. Todd Baeten of the Wausau Police Department. "You know your loved one better than we do, and we want to be partners with you."

The region also has the Marathon Area Support Team (MAST), which is  a structured, official peer-support program.

Resources like that weren't available to Joe when he was struggling. 

"I think that would have been wonderful," he said.

To donate to the "Responders Retreat," click here

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