Peer support aims to help first responders cope with stress at work

TEXARKANA – Never show weakness. Keep it to yourself. Don’t take your work home.

The list of “rules” that law enforcement officers and other first responders have traditionally followed is long.

“For many years, law enforcement had a philosophy of doing nothing if something bothered you. You have to do your job and that was part of it. No one talked about mental health,” the corporal said. Texarkana Arkansas Police Station. . Shawna Yonts.

“Talking about traumatic things you saw at work was seen as a sign of weakness. We weren’t supposed to show weakness, to other cops or outside,” Yonts said.

Yonts has been a police officer for 21 years and a crime scene investigator for over 12 of those years.

The stress of the job helped Yonts, along with Texarkana Arkansas Police Department Officer Scott Megason and former Bi-State Communications Manager Kelly O’Neill, start the Ark-Tex Peer Support organization.

“Scott and I have both been through a lot of traumatic events because of our jobs. We were talking about how before we retired we wanted to see something change. And that’s how it started,” Yonts said.

Ark-Tex peer support is for any law enforcement officer, prison officer, EMS, firefighter or dispatcher interested in peer support. It is to help them deal with and deal with stress, burnout or trauma that results from their work.

TAPD Chief Kristi Bennett was very supportive of the idea of ​​peer support.

“She’s very community-oriented and thinks our metal health will help us help the community,” Yonts said.

The group will focus on Miller County, Arkansas, and Bowie, County Texas, but neighboring agencies are welcome.

Similar peer support groups are starting across Arkansas and Texas.

“I was looking for courses for peer support and you can find them now when you google them,” Yonts said.

A training session prepared 23 TAPD agents to become peer support agents.

“We were a little embarrassed because of COVID, we would like about 30 out of 80 officers to end up taking the training,” Yonts said.

One of the best things about peer support is that it can cross state borders and agencies.

“One of the most important things that would make an officer reluctant to reach out to someone is the fear that they would know they were talking to someone,” Yonts said. “So in that case, they could ask for peer support from another agency or city. It doesn’t have to stop at their agency.”

Confidentiality is an integral part of the role of peer support worker. It is also a commitment and it requires a person to listen.

“It’s a huge engagement when six people call you in a week. Carrying something like a trauma is like carrying stones in a backpack. Talking to six people is like stones in six bags. back to back, ”Yonts said.

Since stress can also affect the officer’s entire family, the TAPD peer support team organized training for spouses and other family members.

The main objective of the support is to simply let an agent or a first responder know that he is not alone and that he is not weak if he is having difficulties.

“We want them to know that there is nothing wrong with how you are feeling,” Yonts said. “Personally, for me, there were things I would never talk about. I didn’t know how bad it was until I hit my brick wall.”

Anyone interested in receiving peer support or training to provide peer support can email [email protected] Where [email protected] or visit the Ark-Tex Peer Support Facebook page.

“We’ll find someone to talk to. Every time you say it out loud, it takes a little weight off you,” Yonts said.

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