(The Center Square) – Missouri is launching a $500,000 program to assist first responders in coping with stress or trauma related to their duties. During the final week of this year’s legislative session, a House member who was a Missouri State Trooper for 28 years encouraged first responders to seek assistance to deal with various issues.
Last year, Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed Senate Bill 57, directing the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to establish a critical incident stress management program. It will provide services to first responders who need assistance coping with stress and potential psychological trauma resulting from responses to critical incidents or emotionally difficult events.
During a six-minute speech on the House floor on May 12, Rep. Ron Copeland, R-Salem, described the emotional and psychological tolls sustained during his career as a Missouri State Trooper.
“Law enforcement officers are heroes who run towards danger every day in order to save our lives and the lives of others,” Copeland said, frequently pausing to regain his composure as he talked about National Police Week. “Police officers are human beings and our work exerts a toll on us and our families.”
National studies show first responders are subject to elevated levels of stress related to both specific critical or traumatic events. They also deal with cumulative day-to-day occupational stress associated with incident responses, intense work schedules and challenging family-work demands.
DPS is collaborating with the Warrior’s Rest Foundation to provide the training at no cost to local agencies.
“I lost six friends in the line of duty over 30 years,” Dan Phillips, a former law enforcement officer now with the Warrior’s Rest Foundation, said in a DPS video promoting the program. “I lost 13 friends to suicide during that same time. Unfortunately, that is a normal statistic.”
In addition to the funding, the law requires all peace officers to meet with a program service provider once every three to five years for a mental health check-in.
“It’s unrealistic to expect human beings to go through the stuff they go through, see the stuff they have to see, experience the things they have to experience and not be impacted by it,” said Kathy Thomas, a clinical psychologist with Warrior’s Rest Foundation who assisted law enforcement officers for the last 27 years.
Copeland told the House a long list of traumatic experiences he dealt with during his career, including not being able to rescue a child who drowned, assisting at two fatal accidents where he knew the victims, and going to homes to notify a family of a death.
“I’m not looking for sympathy,” Copeland said. “I just feel by telling my story I will help you understand – and maybe any officers listening – that I know what it’s like. And it’s OK to go home and let it out.”