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Mental health on the line

First responders need support while dealing with short staff, long hours and missing family

WARREN — Some counselors and mental health groups reported an influx in people seeking care and resources in the first weeks following the stay-at-home order — but April Caraway, Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board executive director, said there is a second tier to the mental health need created by COVID-19: first responders.

“How do we support our first responders and their own mental health needs and self-care that they typically don’t do anyway?” said Caraway, who said first responders — police, fire, EMS, and nurses and doctors on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis — are under increased stress due to the virus.

First responders who may have been exposed to the virus have to self-isolate for 14 days — sometimes depleting staff and leaving fewer police, fire and EMS workers on the streets. Those who remain on duty often have to take on more hours.

“We’re really concerned about them,” Caraway said. She said first responders may not be eating enough or getting enough sleep and could develop negative coping habits.

The Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board is promoting free crisis services to first responders: Blue Star Family Counseling at 330-282-4301, Coleman Professional Services at 330-392-1100 and Valley Counseling at 330-399-6451. She said the board is using levy money to provide the confidential service at no cost.

“There’s still stigma attached to first responders getting mental health care, and we wanted to remove that. So, they don’t have to go through their insurance provider if they don’t want to,” Caraway said.

She said the counseling services have resources aimed directly at first responders dealing with stress. She said she recommends first responders take time off when they can, and that they do not use alcohol as a coping strategy.

“The Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board is so thankful for the work that they do,” Caraway said.

She said the board also has a separate crisis line for hospital personnel.

Duane Piccirilli, executive director of the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board, said hospital workers also are under increased stress.

“Many times they’re exposed,” Piccirilli said. “When they leave for work every day, it might be 14 days before they can see their children again.”

Joseph Caruso, CEO and president of COMPASS Family and Community Services, reminded first responders that it is OK to reach out for help when they need it.

“They’re professionals in their field, and we are professionals in our field. We get their help when we need it, and they need to reach out and get the help we can provide them,” Caruso said. He recommended that first responders practice healthy coping habits such as exercising and eating well, and that they limit time on social media, which can increase fear and anxiety.

“And really try to move away from work,” Caruso said.

avugrincic@tribtoday.com

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