1st Responder Conferences brings mental health care to the forefront

Published: May. 15, 2023 at 6:39 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - It’s a career field that literally takes no breaks. First responders are on the front lines every day, for every holiday, 365 days a year.

They see things that are much more extreme than your average nine to five—and that’s why statistics from the U.S. Department of Health show that 30% of first responders develop conditions such as PTSD and depression compared to 20% of the general population.

In response to this, more than 100 police officers, medics, 911 operators, and many more are meeting at the Gillespie Conference Center to have a discussion on mental health. Specifically, trauma that these heroes endure on a daily basis.

“First responders endure a lot throughout their careers,” said Shawn Thomas, founder of the national organization 1st Responder Conferences. “They see things day in and day out that normal people don’t see, and so we want to make sure that we are being proactive and providing wellness education tools and resources to get them through these difficult professions.”

1st Responder Conferences is hosting a two-day seminar for improving the mental health and wellness of those on the front lines. The multi-faceted event brings a lineup of nationally recognized speakers who discuss issues that are facing first responders and their families.

“We know that there’s occupational trauma by way of the calls that they respond to,” said event speaker Molly Jones. “But I’m going to look at it from a different angle and talk about why those events are stressful to some.”

As mental health awareness continues to be a growing topic, the Elkhart Police Department has continued to implement resources for its staff.

“We have chaplains, we have a peer support, so like an internal support program that we just started and the addition of us, the social workers, which we’ve only been around for a couple months now, so we’re still building that program,” said Dayna Baxter, who is a social work program coordinator and social worker for the Elkhart police department. “The idea is that if we provide these officers with multiple options for people to talk to, and just problem-solving, things that are really stressful for them, and take some of the things that shouldn’t be on their plate, off their plate.”