EVANSVILLE, In. (WEHT) – Law enforcement and first responders encounter potentially traumatic situations everyday. And it takes a toll. A program called Defending Heroes Project is trying to change that.

“It’s something that – there’s that word stigma – people aren’t comfortable feeling ‘hey I’m gonna go talk to someone about these things that I’m feeling. The stuff you see in the job – you see things that the average person doesn’t see, typically,” says Joe Whitledge, Founder and Executive Director of the Defending Heroes Project.

Joe Whitledge is a 14 year law enforcement veteran. He says as a result of his experiences, he is doing everything he can to change that perception – and help fellow officers work through their trauma in a healthy way.

“I see stuff people go through.We’re always there to help others. We always put ourselves on the back burner. If it’s someone else we are right there to help them. Not so much with ourselves, taking care of self care, our mental health, things like that….I just want to be a voice out there to reach out and say. ‘hey, we gotcha,” says Whitledge.

Gibson County Sheriff Bruce Vanoven agrees, encouraging his officers to not be afraid to address mental health concerns.

“We are better when we do life together.So, whenever we see someone isolate, that’s when the chaplains, that’s when the supervisors, that’s when the battle buddies start reaching out to those people and try to draw them back in – and encouraging them to get help. It takes a strong man to ask for help – a weak person will try to fight it on their own,” says Sheriff Vanoven.

Whitledge says understanding and compassion are vital in helping improve this mental health epidemic for all the men and women in uniform.

“It’s okay to not be okay; and there’s more people in that position than not. You know, that’s something I’ve been real big on – and seeing how we can help,” says Whitledge.

The officers that spoke with Eyewitness News say if people working in these professions are struggling, not to hesitate in seeking help if needed – it could very well save a life.