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Hochul announces inaugural mental health needs assessment for first responders


Thu, Apr 4th 2024 06:15 pm

Assessment results from partnership between state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services and SUNY New Paltz’s Institute for Disaster Mental Health

√ DHSES and New York State Office of Mental Health sponsor 19th annual Institute for Disaster Mental Health Conference May 14-15

Submitted by the Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the launch of New York’s inaugural first responder mental health needs assessment to better understand the mental health-related challenges facing the public safety community and strengthen programs and services for these professionals.

Stemming from a partnership between the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services and SUNY New Paltz’s Institute for Disaster Mental Health and Benjamin Center, the assessment will include results from a voluntary anonymous survey and input from a series of focus groups for first responders.

“As we continue to make historic investments in mental health care, it is critical that we engage with communities of first responders, who suffer disproportionately from mental health related challenges,” Hochul said. “Our state is only as strong as the network of individuals who keep us safe, and this comprehensive needs assessment will help us provide them with the care and resources they deserve.”

The needs assessment will gather input from law enforcement, the fire service, EMTs, 911 dispatchers and emergency managers. Officials from DHSES and SUNY New Paltz will deliver the results of the assessment at the 19th Annual Institute for Disaster Mental Health Conference at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park on May 14-15.

In addition to these initiatives, the state Office of Mental Health is partnering with the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services and the Institute for Disaster Mental Health to develop a disaster mental health response statewide. Disaster mental health responders may be activated to support disaster response operations and provide a compassionate presence, immediate psychological first aid and additional support as needed to address the early and expected stress reactions to disasters.

OMH is leveraging federal funding to further develop and train the disaster mental health team, with plans underway to help develop and support local and regional teams. Likewise, DHSES has been working with OMH and the institute to identify additional first responder mental health-related training opportunities, including peer-to-peer courses offered at the State Preparedness Training Center.

Peer support teams include individuals with lived experience to provide emotional, social and practical support when needed. Peer support teams are often used within public safety organizations to help individuals deal with job-related stress and following critical incidents.

Last week, the training center hosted two peer support team training sessions – assisting individuals in crisis and group crisis intervention – in Oriskany. Both sessions reached capacity and additional trainings will be offered later this year.

Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Jackie Bray said, “First responders are faced with traumatic situations every day. Providing our first responders with all the support they need doesn’t just mean grants for new vehicles or equipment, but also means showing up with the mental health supports they need to stay safe on the job. This assessment will allow us to hear directly from first responders across the state on what they want and need when it comes to their emotional well-being.”

Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan said, “First responders experience significant stress and trauma in their work which, if not addressed with the proper support, can lead to more serious conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The needs assessment we’re launching will allow us to hear directly from first responders about the services and supports they need to do their important work without suffering consequences to their health afterwards.”

SUNY New Paltz Institute for Disaster Mental Health Executive Director Amy Nitza said, “Day after day, New York’s first responders and emergency services personnel face extraordinary levels of stress that, if unaddressed, can impact their professional performance and their personal wellbeing. That’s why our strong partnership with DHSES is so important, as we work together to ensure that New York’s mental health infrastructure is appropriately trained and equipped to meet the needs of our communities and build resilience for the future.”

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