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Addressing the Mental Health of First Responders

BY MORGAN MCKAY CITY OF ALBANY PUBLISHED 7:18 PM ET SEP. 11, 2020 UPDATED 8:31 PM ET SEP. 11, 2020

CDC studies looking at the mental of health of first responders showed that at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, around 50 percent of health care workers struggled with depression.

Yet, data after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center showed that at times it can take months or even years for the full effects of a tragedy to take its toll on the mental health of first responders.

John Cooney, a retired Troy Police Captain and mental health instructor, explained that when you’re in the middle of a crisis, your mind is still in reaction mode. But once things start to calm down, unhealthy coping mechanisms can play a role in someone’s mental health.

“When resilience leaves the mind does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It starts to deal with the increased stress, with the trauma you’ve experienced,” Cooney said.

A study conducted by the New York City Health Department showed that those directly affected by 9/11 were more likely to report post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms 6 months after 9/11. And more than 21 percent of residents enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry reported new PTSD symptoms 5-6 years after 9/11.

Cooney said it’s important not to wait until the dust settles in these situations to start addressing the mental health needs of first responders.

“We are dealing with something that does not have a foreseeable end,” Cooney said referring to the pandemic. “So to wait until the end of the crisis to deal with the injuries inflicted on our mental health isn’t going to work. We’re going to find coping mechanisms.”

Senator David Carlucci agreed that although New York is still battling the virus, mental health resources need to be set up now to assist first responders and frontline workers.

“We need to start working immediately to make sure that our essential workers have access to the best mental health resources, to make sure the best practices are in place across the board,” Carlucci explained.

Carlucci sponsored legislation that would create a council of mental health experts who would help first responders and frontline workers access trauma-related behavioral health support.  

“There are situations and experiences that we have not come across before and we have to have our experts working at meeting the challenges of our time,” Carlucci said.

The Frontline Workers Trauma Informed Care Advisory Council bill passed the state legislature and is currently waiting for the governor’s signature.

The governor’s office said the bill is under review.


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