When the 911 calls come in, you rush to the scene.
Upon arrival you’re ready to give the air right from your lungs. Another life saved. Day after day, the trauma and drudgery becomes the new normal. Until the day you finally run out of air and now it’s you who needs resuscitation — whether it’s your mental health or physical health as a first responder.
Learn about two nonprofit organizations ready to take your call when your first responder mental health coping skills are maxed out and you need a shoulder to lean on.
Uniformed Services Peer Council founded by paramedic Dennis Cole
The Uniformed Services Peer Council specializes in working on first responder mental health and provides referrals for clinical support, addiction treatment and suicide prevention.
“Our focus is on direct help for first responders and veterans,” said Dennis Cole, a two-time suicide survivor and founder of the organization.
Referrals include inpatient care, sleep medicine, trauma care, and alcohol and substance abuse — all ways first responder mental health can be effected.
“If people call in, we place them immediately regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay,” he said.
Placement generally happens within 24 hours, which is considerably fast.
Uniformed Services Peer Council is staffed by dedicated volunteers who spend their off hours taking calls and finding local resources for first responders in need of care, support or a person with whom to talk.
Cole has about 20 regular volunteers and 50 additional on reserve. He pairs up each caller with a volunteer who has either direct or indirect experience dealing with the caller’s issue.
Cole said he does this because it helps establish rapport and cuts down on the fear of being judged for first responder mental health problems.
“I group them one on one — like someone who has opiate abuse experience or sexual assault, alcohol abuse, benzodiazepine dependency,” Cole said. “I will pair the person with someone who has gone through a similar issue.”
Or it could be a traumatic situation that the caller and volunteer has witnessed firsthand, such as a near death experience at work or a patient who attempts suicide.
“The people on reserve have been through the same experience,” he said, which helps them relate.
Not ready to make the first responder mental health call?
Not everyone wants or needs a referral. Instead, some people just want to offload a topic that keeps them up at night to improve their first responder mental health.
If that’s your goal, the council’s EMS Confession Series might be just the right thing.
“They post anonymous confessions — things we don’t talk about,” Cole said. “Since we started the project we’ve had a lot of people come into our network, so they can get the help they need.”
911 Buddy Check Project founded by Daniel Mills, NRP, FPC
When it’s time to reach out for help, the 911 Buddy Check Project helps first responders with crisis intervention and substance abuse, peer counseling and health and nutrition coaching.
“I’m a recovering alcoholic from doing this job,” said founder Daniel Mills, NRP, FPC. “People who have helped me have dealt with sub abuse, and suicide issues.”
So, he gets it when first responders suffer from mental health issues and desperately want help but have no idea how to crawl out of that long, dark hole of despair.
All of its volunteer staff members are certified in crisis intervention peer support. And they have all worked as a first responder in some way, shape or form.
“Everyone is either still working on the line or retired EMS,” Miller said. “We know first-hand the issues that first responders deal with.”
The organization welcomes all first responders. Many organizations only deal with police, firefighters, EMS or dispatchers. But the 911 Buddy Check Project welcomes everyone, including:
- 911 dispatchers
- ER nurses
- Police officers
Financial assistance options
The 911 Buddy Check Project also helps first responders foot the bill for treatment.
“We help pay for people’s counseling, bills from rehab,” Mills said. “We help, but we cannot pay all their bills. But we will pay for about four to five visits to a therapist.”
While based in Birmingham, Ala., Mills said the organization helps people worldwide, including southeast Asia, Europe, Australia and throughout the U.S.