Support Hotline Hopes to Reduce Suicide NumbersFree Access

Above, Putnam’s First Line Peer-to-Peer Support volunteers are only a phone call away. Photo By Meg an Castellano

Above, Putnam’s First Line Peer-to-Peer Support volunteers are only a phone call away. Photo By Meg an Castellano

Putnam County recently created a “warm line” operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to assist veterans with thoughts of suicide while connecting them to suicide first aid resources.

John Bourges, coordinator of the Joseph Dwyer Vet2Vet Program in Putnam, reports a number calls have been made to the “warm line,” which has served as a “point of reference and support to not only veterans but their families as well.”

Emergency services, much like the military, is often stress filled. Now, under the direction of Kent Police Chief Kevin Owens, Putnam Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Keith Blessing, Megan Castellano, Director of the Mental Health Association of Putnam, Pastor Andrew Columbia of the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, and Bourges, this group has enrolled men and women who have now become trained to challenge attitudes that inhibit open talk about suicide.

Police officers, firefighters, emergency services providers, corrections officers and dispatchers now have a resource available to them when needed, due to the stigma often attached to law enforcement personnel or EMS needing help.

Bourges explained the program allows an individual to “call someone who has walked in your shoes and understands what the person is going through. We are not accusing you of being broken or saying anything is wrong with you. The program allows the person in need to get from Point A to Point B.”

Chief Owens has experienced a great deal during his law enforcement career: “When an ugly incident unfolds, the first thing I think about is my family or close friends. Who is this person who has been killed or critically maimed? I pray that I don’t know the individual and always seek to get help for the victim and his or her family. After the fact, reality sets in. Cops are deeply affected, since the majority refuse to cry in public.”

Sgt. Blessing described law enforcement and EMS as “never knowing. It’s inevitable but one day you will arrive on a scene of horror – an incident never prepared for. While being diligent and professional at the time, once the uniform is taken off at the conclusion of a shift, the terror or repulsion remains, needing emotional survival tools to process. Stress builds up, and the program will serve as a resource making sure that members of the emergency services and police communities can receive the help they need.”

The new First Line PeertoPeer Support hotline is now operational. Those in need are encouraged to call 845-745-0088 anytime of the day or night,

Castellano was thrilled the project is being undertaken: “Peer support as been a part of our agency for the past 25 years. It is exciting to learn that veterans, law enforcement and emergency responders will now have the same opportunity to vent due to their high risk. People don’t see post traumatic stress because it is not visible to the naked eye. This is a great way for people to deal with it.”

Castellano also applauded the 15 Putnam residents, active or retired police officers, who came to an orientation last month that launched the program: “They are dedicated to supporting their brothers and sisters in law enforcement. We couldn’t do this without them.”

The diverse group of participants, now fully trained, will be able to recognize a person having thoughts of suicide while engaging them in direct and open talk as well as listening to the person’s feelings about suicide – all to show that they are taken seriously.

The next step is to move quickly to connect the individual with a professional trained in suicide intervention.

The Mental Health Association will be recognizing First Line and those involved at its annual breakfast on May 1.

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