First responders attend Twin Falls' first mental health and wellness conference

Published: Apr. 11, 2019 at 11:03 PM MDT
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First responders across the state met in Twin Falls for the first time for a mental health and wellness conference.

"I am strong," said Olivia Meade, the founder of Yoga for First Responders.

"I am strong," a crowd said back, as they were crouched, doing a yoga pose at the Canyon Crest Event Center.

In the two-day conference, there was a session for introduction to yoga, hoping to help first responders find a way to process events that can sometimes haunt them. Possibly a healthy way for some to de-stress is by doing yoga, especially those struggling with the constant worry of what may be next.

"It seems funny to say. Sometimes, just the phone ringing, because it when it rings constantly, incessantly, over and over again, you don't ever know what could be on the other side of the phone call," explained Angel Hunsaker, a dispatch supervisor for SIRCOMM.

"We don't ever know what's on the other line... We hear people’s last breath, we hear people in their darkest hour. The first immediate emotional response from them when they go through something chaotic or very stressful," she explained.

About 195 first responders and their spouses attended this conference, five people away from the cap.

"We endure so much throughout our careers that something, the things that you see, you can’t unsee. Eventually something’s going to catch up with you if you don’t process them. Instead of stuffing them into a box, we’re trying to provide mental health tools to help them be resilient throughout their careers," explained Shawn Thomas, the founder of the First Responders Conferences.

Along with a session for yoga, other speakers, who are or were in the profession, talked about their experiences and how to try and better their mental health.

"It lets us know that the things we experience, the feelings we have, we're not the only ones," said Capt. Eric Schmitz, with the Twin Falls Fire Department.

For Cpl. Steven Gassert, with Twin Falls Police, he said he was surprised with how many resources there are locally and on the Western region of the nation.

Sometimes being an officer or deputy, they may look tough, but they deal with the same emotions everyone does.

"We're humans too. These types of things affect us personally as well," Gassert said.

For victims, they go through the trauma and can begin to process it. However, for first responders, that's not the case.

"When we're done with that call, we're heading out to the next call and we don't have that chance to stop and decompress," Gassert said.

While mental health awareness is on the rise, this conference helps give them access to get help themselves.

"For years, I thought no one truly understand the things we experience or go through in these jobs," Schmitz said. "It’s good to see that there are people out there to help and give assistance."

It's also one thing for people to ask for help, but it's another to actually follow through.

"I have reached out personally in the past to get help," Gassert said. "I've been with the department a little over a 11 years now and have been in some situations that have kind of stuck with me for some time."

Schmitz told KMVT he does feel like it's easier to reach out for help now.

"Reach out, talk to somebody. Don’t let it ruin you," he said.

There is a confidential crisis line for first responders in the Northwest region called Code 4 Northwest. That number is 425-243-5092.