Local counselors say COVID-19 pandemic is weighing on first responders

Coronavirus

"We ask them to take time off and recharge the battery, but they're short-staffed, and they can't do that, and the need is too great," said Toni Notaro

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Mahoning County’s first responders response team has been around since 2016, helping those on the front lines cope with what they see on the job. Many of the methods used to relieve stress don’t work with this COVID-19 pandemic, however.

“You know, we ask them to take time off and recharge the battery, but they’re short-staffed, and they can’t do that, and the need is too great,” said Toni Notaro, a licensed professional counselor at the Mahoning County Mental Health Board.

Notaro is a clinical counselor and a member of the team. She said often, first responders hold debriefing sessions in groups, but with social distancing and stay-at-home orders, that’s not possible.

“So, we ask them to talk amongst themselves. We ask them to try and get some rest and get some exercise, if at all possible,” she said.

“This is a war against someone we can’t see, and they’re scared. They have anxiety,” said Cara Mumford.

Mumford is a case manager with Compass Family Services, which recently started a “Healthcare Hero Support Line.” She admits that some of those needing help must first overcome the stigma of asking for it.

“For fear that they’ll be labeled as crazy or having a mental illness or something like that,” she said.

Notaro said as first responders immerse themselves in their jobs, they tend to function as if they’re on autopilot. She worries that the predicted second wave of the virus later this year will leave them vulnerable all over again.

“The triggers are the same, and it’s going to, you know, cause the same type of feelings and reactions again,” Notaro said.

But Mumford said she’s concerned about what she calls “the crash,” as the pandemic finally starts to ease.

“When this is slowing down, that’s when they’re going to come to realize, ‘What have I been through?’ and ‘What am I going through?'” she said.

She thinks that’s when some may need help the most.

To reach Compass Family Services’ Hero Help Line, call 330-531-7499. It’s staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but after-hours calls are switched directly to the Help Hotline.

All calls are confidential.

Services from the Critical Incident Stress Management Team are free of charge and available to healthcare, nursing home workers and first responders in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, through their Mental Health Boards.

Notaro hopes to start holding debriefing sessions with any agency, department or hospital that would need it once the stay-at-home orders are lifted.

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