WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — Local first responders are taking mental health destigmatization into their own hands.
EMT and Dispatcher Michael Briggs was working one night with his partner Julie Halteman when they responded to a mental health 911 call.
It was this call that made them say “enough is enough” regarding conversations surrounding mental health for first responders in the area.
“When we got the patient to the hospital, we had a talk about our experiences as first responders and how we should be treating mental health in the first responder field,” Briggs explained.
Many of Briggs’ colleagues at local EMS agencies also agreed. They said that the resources for mental health have hit a crisis state.
“In this area, we don’t really have those resources. At least they’re not readily available, and if they are available, there’s longer wait times,” Patrick O’Connell said, who is a paramedic in Jefferson County.
“My own personal experience, colleagues that I’ve worked with, we’ve all lost colleagues to suicide that were in our field,” O’Connell added. “I think it comes to a point where enough is enough.”
This inspired Briggs and a group of first responders to start an organization dedicated to destigmatizing mental health, naming it the Priority Wellness Campaign, which is now in the process of obtaining its 501(c)3 and charity certifications.
The board is currently comprised of all local first responders, including Briggs as the Executive Director, O’Connell as the Chair of the Board, Josh Wilcox as secretary and Julie Halteman as Treasurer.
According to Briggs, the organization hopes to develop programs such as peer-to-peer services where fellow first responders will volunteer their time to support others, as well as educational training for police, fire and EMS agencies.
But he said it will all come down to the conversations others are willing to have regarding the issue.
“If one person takes away what we’re talking about with destigmatization of mental health and resources for mental health, then we’ve done our mission,” Briggs expressed.
Priority Wellness Campaign is currently accepting pledges from the community to cover legal and start-up fees. More information can be found on the organization’s website.