First Responder’s mental health support

Being a first responder can be rewarding, but it also comes with some challenges.
Published: Aug. 30, 2022 at 6:33 PM CDT
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LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) - Deadly car wrecks, like the one that happened this past weekend, are traumatic for everyone, not only family and friends, but first responders too. Here in Lawton, first responders can find help managing their mental health from Heartland Medical Direction, an Oklahoma-based non-profit.

Often times, first responders are running on adrenaline when arriving at a traumatic scene. They’re focused on remembering their training, to possibly save a life. Paramedic and Assistant Director at Kirk’s Ambulance Sandra Sand said first responders don’t always know what they’re going to see when they get to a scene or what’s going to stay with them.

“We try not to take our job home with us, but it does not always work like that. It’s really hard to separate yourself from a situation like that, especially when you work in a situation like that. So that’s what this team is about, is we want to teach people. You don’t have to take this with you, you can go home, and you can process this out and you can have people that are there to help you through it and healthy coping mechanisms,” said Sand.

Eddie Rice is a flight paramedic and founder of the mental health portion of Heartland Medical Direction. He said the trauma that comes with being a first responder caused one of his close friends to commit suicide.

“And I made it out of my situation and he, unfortunately, took his life. So, it just lit a fire under me to give people an opportunity to have peers even if they think it’s all on their own, there always going to be somebody there for them,” said Rice.

Dena Williams is a licensed counselor for Heartland Medical Direction. She said first responders are more likely to commit suicide than die in the line of duty, due to the trauma they are constantly exposed to. She said flashbacks and nightmares are some of the symptoms they deal with, but there are other ways to know if you are dealing with trauma.

“Incisive thoughts I think are key. If you can’t focus or if you keep having those incisive thoughts about the incident. Poor sleep is a big indicator, also isolation, avoidance, substance abuse any sort of addictive behaviors,” said Williams.

Law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, and dispatchers can all reach out for help via the Heartland Medical Directions peer support team online or by calling (405) 876-7090 and choosing option 4.

They also offer a Veterans Crisis Line at (800) 273-8255 and choose option 1, or text 838255.

Anyone who needs a little extra emotional support can call, text, or chat 988.