The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at Wayne State University and Michigan State University has launched a new website and phone line to provide assistance and training for state first responders and their families facing the stresses they face in their daily duties.
The front line is strong together (www.fst5.orgThe website and contact line (1-833-34-STRONG) were created by first responders and mental health experts. The site provides 24/7 live support, effective resources, and advanced services for the prevention and relief of PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other work-related mental health challenges.
Mental health experts from Wayne State University and Wayne Health collaborated with Michigan’s Crisis and Access Line (MiCAL) and representatives of the Michigan Professional Firefighters Federation, the fraternal system of police, the Department of Corrections, paramedics and dispatchers to develop the program. A $2 million grant from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services funded the development of education, training, support, and behavioral health treatment services by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Washington State University. Programs help police, firefighters, EMTs, dispatchers, corrections personnel, and their families address and reduce sources of stress from acute and chronic stressors.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 30 percent of first responders have mental health disorders, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, compared to 20 percent of the general population. Suicide rates are higher among first responders. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that law enforcement officers and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty, and EMS providers are 1.39 times more likely to die by suicide than the general public. Between 17% and 24% of remote public safety workers have symptoms of PTSD and 24% have symptoms of depression. The National Institute of Corrections reported that 19% of prison workers surveyed “reported symptoms that were severe enough to be diagnosed as PTSD,” a rate six times higher than the general population.
“Front Line Strong to You distinguishes Wayne State University in that the research we do is not in some ivory tower. It is right in the trenches with the community, in real time, to develop evidence-based approaches to help as many people as possible,” David Rosenberg said, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at WSU. “We go where the data is and implement best practices.”
The training and resources available throughout the state under Frontline Strong Together will provide support across academically-supported medical research in a state with an acute shortage of support services, especially for first responders and their families. WSU psychiatrists have developed and will operate a statewide clearinghouse for materials that include training videos and handbooks, and train-the-trainer syllabuses for use in training police, firefighters, and other first responders. The site includes videos from mental health experts offering positive explanations and techniques, and training videos for families and peers. Topics include effective language that family members can use to calm situations; Admitting to self-harm, including alcohol and substance abuse; nonviolent communication psychological symptoms when and where to get help for mental health treatment; and coping mechanisms to stress and trauma.
Peer support and coaching is a vital component of Frontline Strong Together, said Alireza Amirsadre, MD, director of Washington State University of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences and lead developer of the project. Trainees are taught in person and through virtual platforms, and receive ongoing training.
“The goal of peer training is not to ‘fix’ all problems, but rather to learn how to handle and communicate about certain situations,” said Dr. Amersadre.
Another important component of the intervention program is telehealth services. A mental health provider registry is available for referrals if a first responder prefers personal assistance. Services include assessments, cognitive behavioral therapy, medication management, and outpatient mental health treatment. Sophisticated and innovative PTSD treatments are also being developed using augmented reality technology. This technology will allow first responders to practice exposure to normal life situations that they avoid due to traumatic experiences.