Serving Our First Responders: Mental Health First Aid Training
First responders see an average of seven to 14 emergencies every day. Many of those emergencies involve mental health incidents. All of these incidents have the potential to weigh heavily on the mental health of the professionals who respond.
“At the end of the day, first responders are taking those emergencies home with them,” said Laurey Carpenter, chief strategy and grants officer at SC Thrive, a statewide nonprofit helping South Carolinians gain access to resources that can promote financial stability.
First responders are constantly exposed to risky, life-threatening situations, and have a high potential for experiencing trauma after working through multiple emergencies with little time between calls to process what they’re experiencing. The combination of long hours and high stress puts these heroic professionals at a high risk of also experiencing personal mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction. It can be difficult for emergency responders — so accustomed to helping others — to identify signs of mental distress within themselves and seek help.
The BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation supports SC Thrive’s Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training to provide awareness and education about mental health, reducing stigma and myths. The eight-hour course is designed to help individuals learn to recognize and de-escalate mental health incidents, both in their work and personally.
Since its inception in April 2019, SC Thrive’s program has trained 215 emergency medical technicians, members of law enforcement, teachers and school counselors to help identify mental health issues, communicate effectively under stressful circumstances and provide necessary resources to those in need of further attention.
With a goal to train 2,300 people by the end of its third year, the program partners with the South Carolina Emergency Medical Services Association to provide outreach throughout the state, and looks for a “champion” in each county to lead its outreach efforts and ensure that the training addresses real-life experiences and practical implementations.
“This is self-care, for people to increase their skills in the field, but also recognize mental health triggers within themselves,” Carpenter said. “Everyone could benefit from a training like this.”