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HFD Peer Support Counselor talks importance of mental health for first repsonders

Published: May. 9, 2022 at 10:02 AM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but for the members of the Harrisonburg Fire Department, these conversations happen every day of the year.

Staffed with a peer support counselor, 17 peer support mentors, and local clinicians, crew members of both career and volunteer status have someone they can talk to.

“Being able to open up and have an avenue or a coping skill that can relieve that stress is monumental in the mental well-being, the physical well-being, and also the longevity in this job. You need that mental health support, you need that family atmosphere to get people to release that stress,” Harrisonburg Fire Department Peer Support Counselor Gene Thompson said.

Thompson adds that although there are professional resources in the community, having more specific options for not only firefighters but all first responders would only help.

“One of the biggest issues with mental health with first responders is having a clinician that understands what we go through and how we go through it. Finding those clinicians and those resources and this is not just in the city of Harrisonburg, this is across the state of Virginia is we have a shortage of counselors that really can help us,” Thompson explained.

Gene and his wife Sarah also provide training and resources to first responders throughout the state through their nonprofit Virginia First Responder Support Services.

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