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W. Va. Center Addresses Mental Health Of Police, Firefighters

Huntington, W. Va., has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, and he’s not alone in the profession. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that 30% of first responders develop behavioral health conditions like depression and PTSD. Firefighters and police officers are more likely to die by suicide than they are in the line of duty, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A program the city of Huntington started to help make its police officers and firefighters more resilient to the jobs’ mental toll is showing signs of success, city leaders say, reports West Virginia Watch. Huntington founded the Compass program in 2018 with the help of a $1 million, three-year grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge program. Compass aims to address compassion fatigue facing first responders as a record number of drug overdoses deluged the city. In 2016, Cabell County had the highest fatal drug overdose rate in West Virginia, while the state had the highest U.S. drug overdose death rate.

The city contributed $250,000 to the Compass Center, a facility within the police department that features a sauna room, yoga and meditation rooms, fitness center and kitchen. Since the Bloomberg grant expired in 2021, the city of Huntington has continued to fund the program with about $300,000 a year, says director Austin Sanders. The program has two components: mental and physical health. Wellness coach Amy Jefferson focuses on mental health, while her counterpart Amy Hanshaw focuses on physical health. Jefferson offers s “mental health coaching.” “What I do is teach about how to be resilient, teach about growth mindset, about gratitude — stuff that they probably thought was kind of foofoo,” Jeffierson said. “So I have to back everything with ‘here’s all the athletes that do it. Here are all the studies on it. It’s valid and a legitimate thing. And it’s not just a foofoo thing.’”


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