Does the topic of mental health leave you a bit unsettled? You’re not alone. I do hope that after reading about how common and universal mental health issues are, as well as how one local group of first responders is opening up about the effects of trauma on their well-being and embracing self-care, you’ll feel more comfortable being open about mental health challenges.
About one in five people in our country experience a mental health issue each year (about 20%), representing way more people than those diagnosed with cancer or heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Few of us would hesitate to let people know about either of those ailments, seek treatment or ask for help from family and friends. I’m not saying that any of these diseases or disorders is worse than any other, but I am saying that we should be willing to talk about and get help for mental disorders as willingly as we are physical health issues.
Newark Division of Fire & Emergency Medical Services firefighter paramedics Kevin Garwick and Jason Hufford have worked all year to advocate for their fellow first responders. After his own bout with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Hufford shared his story with the Newark Advocate earlier this year and Garwick established the division’s peer support group, both advocating for their co-workers who often face the same types of circumstances that can impact their wellbeing. In October, Garwick and Hufford received the 2019 Chief’s Award from Newark Fire Chief Patrick Connor for their efforts. On the same evening, Mental Health & Recovery of Licking and Knox Counties’ 2019 Licking County Wellness & Recovery Champion Award was given to Garwick, Jason and Tricia Hufford, and the Newark Division of Fire & Emergency Medical Services for their efforts to provide Peer Support training for local Firefighters and EMS. At the training, first responder peers learned to recognize the signs and symptoms of PTSD, suicidal ideation, depression and other mental health problems. They were given tools and information about resources to get those affected the professional help they need as well as the skills and knowledge to build their Peer Support program into a successful and effective team. An important component of the skills learned is how to take care of themselves, incorporating healthy sleep, eating and exercise habits into their routines. Self-care is critical for all of us.
If a group of tough first responders can admit that they’re susceptible to mental health issues, can’t the rest of us? Firefighters are the first to enter a burning building and save a life and I’m beyond proud that this local group is the one leading the way, showing all of us that it’s ok to admit when there’s something going on that’s bigger than we are and we need help dealing with it. It’s ok to not be ok!
Published Nov. 17, 2019 in the Newark Advocate