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

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — First responders rescue people in traumatic and stressful situations every day, but many fail to take care of their own mental well-being.

Two local women created “Mindful Connections for Public Safety” to help support those on the front lines.

“I invite you to relax and sit back in comfort. Just take a moment to land here in this space,” Kristy Weidner said as she led a meditation for first responders at Rabkin Japanese Zen Garden in Taranto.

She wanted them to just take a moment and clear their minds of the horrifying sights and sounds they encounter more than once a day.

“All the work we do is hard to take away with you and process every day,” Mandy Tinkey said. “We are faced with incidents that help families on the worst day of their lives.”

Tinkey is the lab manager for the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office. They investigate violent, sudden, accidental, or unsupervised deaths in the county.

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

Thus, Tinkey and his team participated in Mindful Connections for Public Safety.

This is 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. It’s just my job.’ Even when you’re thanking someone, ‘Oh, it’s okay.’ It’s a big deal,” Weidner said. “We want to provide additional services to those who selflessly give to our communities every day.”

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 guided law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical service workers and others.

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

In fact, Romero said there is a high divorce rate among firefighters due to the difficult career.

Before the 2018 pandemic, about 30% of first responders suffered from behavioral health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, while rarely seeking help, according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health. Administrative services.

“We also hear about a lot of alcohol abuse and other ways of numbing to try to cope without having those skills,” 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 there’s actually a when you start to panic or lose your mind, you can actually step in and calm him down.”

Romero and Weidner include therapy, meditation and walking meditation in their training. They said it’s life changing.

“There’s a lot of research into this connection between mind and body and how the neuroplasticity in our brains can be rewired,” Weidner said. “So if you’re going through trauma or have anxiety, you can control your brain’s processing through meditation, and that’s really exciting.”

Tinkey said that through this program, his staff practice these skills at least 15 minutes a week.

“Knowing that there are people out there who recognize that you have to help helps and without that, the emotional fatigue, the vicarious trauma will engulf you,” Tinkey said. “Having people in our community who want to help caregivers and let them know that I need support is huge for us.”

They prepare their minds and bodies so that they can provide the best assistance once it is time to answer the call.

“May you carry this feeling and this gratitude with you for the rest of the day and the 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 Sept. 29 called “The Post-Traumatic Purpose Project.”

You can read more about this course at this link.

Also, for more information on Mindful Connections for Public Safety, visit this link.

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