KD Sunday Spotlight: Local women providing mental health services to first responders

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — First responders save people in traumatic and stressful situations every day, but many of them don’t take charge of their own mental well-being.

Two local women created Conscious Connections for Public Safety in an effort to help those on the front lines.

“I invite you to relax and sit comfortably. Just take a moment to come down here into this space,” said Kristy Weidner as she led a meditation on first responders at the Rabkin Japanese Zen Garden in Tarentum.

She wanted them to just take a moment and clear their minds of the horrible sights and sounds they are faced with more than once a day.

“All the work we do is hard not to take home and process every day,” Mandy Tinkey said. “We are dealing with incidents that are helping families on the worst day of their lives.

Tinkey is the laboratory director at the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office. They investigate violent, sudden, accidental or medically unattended deaths in the county.

“I know you can’t drink from a fire hose, so I had to find ways for myself and those individuals who work with me to have techniques to allow us to overcome some of the incidents that we have to deal with. every day. and the decisions we have to make,” Tinkey said.

So Tinkey and her team participated in Mindful Connections for Public Safety.

It’s a nine-week course to learn skills that can reduce stress and trauma while improving health, resilience and focus.

“We hear a lot, ‘I’m just doing my job. That’s just my job.” Even when you’re thanking someone, ‘Oh, it’s not a big deal.’ It’s a big deal,” Weidner said. “We want to provide additional services to those who give so selflessly every day to our communities.”

Weidner, the clinical director of the Village Center for Holistic Therapy, and Stephanie Romero, the founder of Awaken Pittsburgh are working together to provide this service.

So far, they have led law enforcement, firefighters, EMS workers and others.

“They’re really worried about their families,” Romero said. “If you come home and you’ve seen a horrible, horrible scene, you don’t often want to share it with your partner. So you withdraw or you can be distressed and reactive, and that makes for a really difficult relationship with your spouse or children.” .

In fact, Romero said there is a high divorce rate among firefighters because of the challenging career.

Before the pandemic in 2018, about 30 percent of first responders experienced behavioral health conditions, including post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and depression, while rarely seeking support, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration .

“We also hear about a lot of alcohol abuse and other ways of numbing yourself to try to cope without having that skill set,” Romero said. “What we really want to do is help people start noticing what’s going on in their minds and bodies. Start noticing what the stress response is, start noticing that actually it’s a moment when you start to worry or start to lose it. that you can actually step in and calm him down.”

Romero and Weidner incorporate therapy, meditation and standing meditation into their training. They said it is life changing.

“There’s a lot of research on the mind-body connection and how neuroplasticity in our brains can be rewired,” Weidner said. “So if you experience trauma or have anxiety, you can control your brain’s treatment through meditation, and it’s really exciting.”

Tinkey said that thanks to this program, her staff practices these skills at least 15 minutes a week.

“Knowing that there are people out there who understand that you need helpers, and without that, the passion fatigue, the vicarious trauma will wash over you,” Tinkey said. “Having people in our community who want to help the paramedics and let the paramedics know that I need the support is huge for us.”

They prepare their mind and body to be able to provide the best assistance once it is time to answer the call.

“Carry this feeling and this gratitude with you for the rest of the day and week,” Tinkey said to end the meditation.

Weidner and Romero have a mental health and wellness training course for first responders, veterans and public safety professionals coming up Sept. 29 called “The Post-Traumatic Intent Project.”

You can learn more about this course at this link.

Also, for more information on Public Safety Conscious Links, go to this link.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.