mental health resources for Florida first responders

Improving Mental Health Resources for Florida First Responders

by Pat Fontana

As the first people on the scene in emergencies, first responders are challenged with caring for and calming victims as they work to resolve the situation itself. These police officers, fire fighters, and emergency medical professionals often find that they experience physical and mental health issues as a direct result of their jobs. A grant and planned hotline improvements have recently been announced as part of a move toward improving mental health resources for Florida first responders.

State Announces Grant

Florida governor Ron DeSantis recently announced a $4.9 million grant that has been made available through the state’s Department of Children and Families. The funds will be used to improve Florida’s 211 crisis hotline system.

As part of the planned improvements, first responders themselves will be hired to answer the 211 crisis calls so that they can act as a peer counselor and referral service to those first responders calling in for help. First Lady Casey DeSantis said, when announcing the grant, that first responders “need an outlet, they need a peer, they need someone that they can call, they know that they can relate to who understands what they endure day in and day out.”

The governor is also allocating over $23 million from CARES Act funds to support Florida’s mental health system. Out of that, $18 million will go to community-based services for adults and children, and $4.5 million will be used to enhance mental health treatment facilities throughout the state. DeSantis said, “The effects of the pandemic on mental health have been significant, and these funds are an important resource to help Floridians recover from COVID-19.”

Mental Health and COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased stress levels for these emergency workers, beyond their normal duties, as well as for most people across the country. That added stress and worry over safety and health have increased the level of mental health issues and substance use disorders.

In a poll conducted in July 2020, it was found that 53% of adults in the US reported that their mental health had been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the pandemic. Impacts on an individual’s health and well-being, resulting from the isolation and uncertainty of the COVID-19 outbreak, can include difficulty sleeping or eating, increases in drug or alcohol use, and worsening chronic conditions.

Increased Risk of Trauma

When first responders arrive on the scene of an emergency, they face challenging and often dangerous situations, even during “normal” times. In a disaster, either natural or manmade, first responders provide emotional and physical support to the victims. All of this puts these responders, including police, firefighters, search and rescue personnel, and emergency and paramedical teams, at an increased risk of trauma.

Improving mental health resources for Florida first responders is a step toward helping to alleviate some of the trauma they experience daily in their jobs. For example, they are often exposed (directly or indirectly) to death, grief, injury, pain, or loss as well as experiencing direct exposure to threats to personal safety, long hours of work, frequent shifts and longer shift hours, poor sleep, physical hardships, and other negative experiences.

Continuing PTSD

The trauma that first responders experience on the job often follows them long after they clock out. The emotional stress they deal with when responding to emergencies or treating victims can affect their mental health in different ways, causing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and other long-lasting issues.

Many first responders continue to battle with PTSD, along with the physical strain of their job, long work hours, and lack of sleep. These factors can increase the likelihood of mental health problems and substance abuse. Offering peer counseling as part of the improved mental health resources for Florida first responders is a positive step toward encouraging them to reach out for help, as they will be assured that the person answering the phone truly understands their struggles.

Contact South Miami Recovery for Help

At South Miami Recovery, we offer you evidence-based therapies to help with your stress and anxiety, including mindfulness therapy. Our professional team is also here to help with your substance use issues, as we address the spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional aspects of your recovery. We know that your well-being is of the utmost importance during the COVID-19 pandemic, so South Miami Recovery offers HIPAA-compliant telehealth services to enable you to get the treatment you need now. Contact us today for help. Call South Miami Recovery at 305.661.0055.