N.M. cop-turned-country music singer launches mental health initiative for first responders
Frank Ray visited with cops, firefighters and dispatchers during his 35-city music tour and stopped at Capitol Hill to introduce FRAY
By Jim McKay
DEMING, N.M. — Frank Ray has seen his musical career take off in the last three years, with a No. 1 single and three Top 10 singles on Texas Country radio. He also landed a record deal with BBR Music Group/Stoney Creek Records and released his first label EP, Getcha Some.
But his most recent, and perhaps most enriching, accomplishment is the launch of FRAY, his mental health initiative to help first responders and police officers deal with the stress of the job and let them know that somebody — in this case a former 10-year veteran cop and successful country music artist — cares.
Ray recently officially kicked off his first-responder mental health campaign in Washington, D.C., joining Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., on a panel discussing the mental health challenges first responders face.
He also made it a priority to visit as many police stations, fire departments and dispatch centers as he could during a 35-city music tour.
One of the stops was the Duluth, Minn., Police Department.
"He came in and met with our officers and dispatchers and officers from neighboring organizations and just talked about his mission," said Mike Ceynowa, Duluth police chief. "As somebody who was in the profession for 10 years, music was kind of his outlet to de-stress and maintain a sense of self as he worked through dealing with other people's tragedies."
And that has become Ray's mission: using his platform as a successful musician to help where there often is none for police and first responders. He offers a website where police and first responders can go to find resources and learn about how to deal with the stressors of the job.
"I felt like with my country music career growing to what it is and where it's going, we have a platform and opportunity to give back to the community, especially the community that gave me so much in my 10 years," Ray said.
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"We made it a point to visit police departments and fire houses everywhere we go while on tour to help spread the message of FRAY to let people know that as an officer of 10 years, I've walked a mile in their shoes and I understand the struggles they might be dealing with."
Ray said that there are many ways that the stress of the job manifests itself, and it has been kind of taboo for police and other first responders to talk about mental health challenges because they believe they have to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" and move on. It's always been a hazard of the job, and it may be getting worse.
"We're seeing a lot of people who are suffering from substance use disorder as well as mental health crises, people who are unsheltered," Ceynowa said. "So for our officers, those are the two that we have to spend a lot of time with. There's no clear-cut answer and there's a constant revolving door of 'we dealt with this person today and now tomorrow we're dealing with them again.'"
"There are so many things we could talk about [on how the stress manifests]," Ray said, "with the increase in mass shootings and the decrease in people wanting to become police officers and first responders and with media and social media where people can look down on officers."
Ray says the best approach to helping police and first responders is a human one, recognizing that there is a "heart behind the badge." He says all police have horror stories and need to feel like they can acknowledge those and talk about them.
"I know the war stories that I can tell," Ray said. "And when I sit down and visit with police officers it shows that they have war stories of their own, but they really have no health outlet to be able to put those feelings out there and those emotions out there."
And so, behind his musical prowess, Ray is trying to let as many first responders as possible know that there is someone who cares and that there are resources to help. "It's important to recognize that there's a human being [behind] that badge," he said. "And it's important to take care of the people of the [first responder] community, but without somebody at the forefront it can get lost in translation."
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