Missouri bills could add mental health resources for first responders

Missouri legislature seek to help first responders get mental health help
Missouri legislature seek to help first responders get mental health help(WGEM)
Published: Feb. 22, 2023 at 4:35 AM CST
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QUINCY (WGEM) - First responders are out everyday working to keep their communities safe but experts say the job can take a toll on their mental health.

That’s something Missouri lawmakers are looking to address with multiple bills seeking increased access to mental health resources.

One of which, Senate Bill 24, would create new confidentiality protections for first responders in peer counseling programs and would also allow more first responders like EMT’s to access a voluntary benefits pool which could help pay for mental health help.

Those at Mark Twain Behavioral Health in Hannibal said the first responders they see struggle with depression, anxiety, and insomnia and they say it can be tough for them to get the help they need.

Community Behavioral Health Liaison Nichole Rohn said the state has started to recognize first responders are being left behind in terms of mental health help. She said they face a number of barriers to care, such as a lack of help, especially in rural areas, the cost of care, and getting care a timely matter.

“Anybody who knows anything about first responders, we’re talking they may need somebody available way early in the morning before 7:00 a.m.. They may need somebody who works late at night or on the weekends and most of the providers out here are working 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., so that’s not gonna be conducive to a first responder,” Rohn said.

Those with the Hannibal Fire Department said they are glad to see measures going forward.

Public Education Coordinator Mark Kempker said he’s glad more is being done to help address the issues first responders face.

“The thing about first responders are we are the ones that everyone else is asking for help and we tend to have a stereotype that ‘Oh, they’re invincible’ or they feel like they are invincible and so they carry this heavy load that they have to be strong for everyone but who’s going to be strong for them?” Kempker said.

He said a lot of things he’s seen sticks with him, like his first car accident and his first fatal fire. He said those traumatic events can can build up over time and even a small event can cause those emotions come out eventually and hinder their ability to do their job.

Kempker said he hopes the bills will be the first of many to continue to help first responders. He said he hopes it will lead to an organization like the VA but for first responders.

Rohn said Mark Twain Behavioral Health is offering a free basic crisis intervention training on March 30. If you’re interested in learning more about other programs and resources they offer you can call you can call Kris Whitehead at (573) 719-7256 or email at kwhitehead@mtbh.org or Nichole Rohn at (660) 956-3075. You can also email Ryan Lawzano at rlawzano@marioncounty-mo.gov.

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