City employees in Dallas will now be entitled to hours of paid time off for mental health recovery when exposed to traumatic experiences on the job.
At an early March meeting, the City Council unanimously voted to extend mental health benefits to all city employees, including firefighters, code law enforcement officers, paramedics (EMTs), 911 operators, and other employees. The unanimous approval gave paid time off to more than 8,000 city workers.
Initially, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson had proposed expanding the city’s paid mental health leave to paramedics and firefighters. However, a city council member requested the inclusion of other civilian workers like 911 operators, citing traumatic events they too might face at work, such as answering suicide distress calls.
About the Benefits
The city ruling has been a long time coming. In October 2020, city council members approved up to 40 hours or five days of paid time off for peace officers, including roughly 3,100 Dallas law enforcement officers. They implemented the move following new state legislation that came into force in September 2020.
The law requires police departments to create mental health leave policies for law enforcement officers affected by an on-duty traumatic event. However, the new city-wide rule would enable Dallas firefighters to take up to 60 hours of paid time off each year. Meanwhile, other city employees can take up to 40 paid mental health leave each fiscal year.
City workers cannot accumulate or roll over unused time off to future fiscal years. Any unused time is lost. Moreover, the need to take time off for mental health will have to be approved by licensed psychotherapy practitioners like psychologists or psychiatrists.
With an increase in demand, grows an increase in the number of practices available for care, including the soon-to-open Geode Health practice in Southlake, Texas, a popular area just outside Dallas.
A copy of the city ordinance indicated that the newly approved rule would take effect immediately. City council members estimate that 800 of the recently covered employees will cost a minimum of $705K if they take time off. Of course, city workers’ mental health benefits will more than pay for it.
A Much-Welcome Respite
The newly covered employees’ friends, relatives, and spouses welcome the new rule, saying it will make a huge difference in their loved ones’ lives. Take Heather Seymour Crutcher, for example, whose husband, a former Dallas Fire Captain, took his life through suicide. She said the paid time off for mental health could be incredibly lifesaving.
In a statement delivered by Adam McGough, a city official, Ms. Heather remembered her husband as a loving person who was passionate about helping others but struggled to cope with the stress of the job and caring for his co-workers, family, and fellow veterans.
Jim McDade, the Dallas Fire Fighters Association president, informed the public during a press conference that the city fire department has experienced at least five members commit suicide in the past half-decade. City council officer Cara Mendelsohn told other members that a department employee recently almost died from suicide to reiterate his sentiment.
Of course, Dallas Fire Captain Crutcher is not an isolated case of mental health-related issues among firefighters. According to Forbes Magazine, more firefighters in the United States commit suicide each year than those who die in the line of duty.
In addition to being given several days of paid mental health leave, the Dallas city manager is also planning to hire psychologists to provide support for the department and psychotherapy services for firefighters and their immediate loved ones. The Dallas law enforcement department already has a sufficient number of on-staff psychologists.
With the increase in demand, grows an increase in the number of practices available for care. This includes the soon-to-open Geode Health practice in Southlake Texas, a popular area just outside off Dallas.
The mental health practitioners will also serve another essential purpose. They will evaluate candidates for mental fitness before being hired and after experiencing a major traumatic event. According to the city, a traumatic incident is physical abuse, serious injury, or threatened/actual death.
Worker suicide is a severe mental health issue that should garner more attention than it does. Data collected from 1999 to 2018 showed that suicide deaths in the United States jumped by 35%, and roughly 47,000 Americans commit suicide each year, according to Harvard Business Review. A significant portion of these suicide deaths occur among working-age Americans, and the number of suicides committed at work has hit record highs.
The rule by the city of Dallas to approve paid mental health leave for its most prized assets, its workers like paramedics, law enforcement officers, and firefighters, is a bold move that will undoubtedly reverberate across America.