Huntington prioritizes first responders’ mental health thanks to $1 million grant

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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WOWK) — After receiving a $1 million dollar grant back in October, the city of Huntington is announcing a new program that will provide mental health resources to first responders combatting the opioid epidemic.

“If I can’t take care of myself, I surely can’t take care of you,” said Lt. Steve McCormick of the Huntington Fire Department.

McCormick was referring to the stress first responders face day in and day out on the front lines of the opioid epidemic.

And while Huntington has led the way in the battle against the opioid epidemic, the city is now taking a deeper look at how the crisis is affecting its first responders.

“The one thing that we knew that we had to be able to do is to help the helpers,” said Huntington Mayor Steve Williams.

Wednesday morning, the Huntington unveiled ‘Compass,’ a program designed to help first responders deal with the mental exhaustion they experience on the job.

 “The things that we see on a day-to-day basis, and the toll that it takes on our bodies mentally is unbelievable,” said McCormick.

That toll, primarily coming from responses to drug overdoses and fatalities related to opioids.

“First responders are ten times more like to commit suicide than average people, and I think about all the times how well we are trained to help other people, and [aren’t trained in how] help ourselves,” McCormick added.

Among the services that will be provided to first responders and their families are trainings, therapy, and self-care classes.

The Compass Center will be built at the Huntington Police Department.

First responders will be able to get face-to-face help at this location; and first responders will be able to get face-to-face help. But they will also be able to get help through an app on their smartphones.

“I think with the app, people will be able to communicate [their struggles],” said McCormick. “People will be able to see what’s going on, see what’s out there available to us. I think that’s very important.”

Mayor Steve Williams also hopes to make these same resources available to other first responders like emergency room personnel, clergy, and teachers.

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