New hotline aims to help mental health of first responders during COVID-19 pandemic

We call them when we have an emergency but who can first responders call when they need help? There is a new hotline specifically for first responders who often deal with situations that most people only get a glimpse of watching on the news. Because of that stress and now the added pressures of COVID-19 there’s a Helpline for Heroes, specifically for firefighters, police and EMS.

For our heroes who rush to an emergency when everyone else is running away, the job can be mentally draining. Now COVID-19 is elevating that stress. "With COVID-19 it’s definitely jumped up quite a bit. You never know who you’re going to run into or if they have it,” explains Capt. Calvin Adkins with the Spring Fire Department. 

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"There’s a lot of uncertainty around it and whenever we have that much stress and it continues to bottle up we worry about overall mental health,” explains Dr. James Langabeer UTHealth Professor of Emergency Medicine & BioMedical Informatics. So UTHealth now has the Heroes Helpline for firefighters, police officers and EMS workers.

"I know several people personally who have dealt with mental health issues. Firefighters here and other places. So that would be very helpful. I like to do a mental health check with my guys all the time and ask how they’re doing. Ask about their family. I have a family and children. We all have families,” explains Captain Adkins. 

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"When we see on a daily basis someone get hurt, someone get shot, someone dying, someone getting arrested, a gun put in our face if we’re a police officer. Those kinds of mental images are images that are almost impossible to erase without work,” adds Dr. Langabeer who says chronic stress can lead to drug and alcohol abuse.

"Women that are fire and EMS workers are nearly three times that of the general population to develop a substance use,” says Dr. Langabeer and he says male first responders are almost twice as likely to commit suicide.

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Doing things with the people you love can be a huge stress reliever but many first responders are isolated away from family right now.

"I did come in contact with a patient who tested positive. So I had to go into quarantine for two weeks. My four-year-old daughter, she didn’t understand it at all. It was hard. It was not fun,” says firefighter Amanda Erekson with the Spring Fire Department.

The helpline offers first responders treatment options, coping skills or simply someone to talk to.  "They can talk to somebody who’s just like them, somebody also struggling with mental health and substance use.  We use peer recovery specialists to also man the lines. We have options for telecounseling.  There is help,” explains Dr. Langabeer.

The Heroes Helpline is available to firefighters, police and EMS workers 24 hours a day.  The helpline number is 833-EMS-INTX, 833-367-4689.