In a groundbreaking collaboration, First Response Mental Health is teaming up with prominent organizations such as the SC EMS Association (SCEMSA), the South Carolina Fire Association (SCSFA), South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program (SCLEAP), South Carolina Coroners Association (SCCA), and peer support teams like SCFAST and the Low Country Firefighter Support Team to launch a fully funded pilot project. South Carolina’s innovative approach to First Responder well-being will ensure every first responder across the state can access the support they need through PeerConnect.

How SC PeerConnect Works:

SC PeerConnect provides first responders with private, anonymous support when they need it with 24/7 coverage, all from their mobile phones. The program allows for proactive connections within their peer teams for structured mental health and wellness conversations. SC PeerConnect users can request contact at any time and will be connected with a peer support team member, psychologists, chaplains, and mental health professionals depending on their needs.

Key Features and Resources:

Participating first responder agencies in the pilot program gain access to a plethora of health and wellness resources, self-assessment tools, and local peer support teams at the touch of a button. The initiative focuses on creating a comprehensive online application platform to manage internal and external support teams – providing state-wide assistance.

The Urgency of First Responder Mental Health:

The general public understands that when they call for help in an emergent situation, a public servant is going to come to their aid. “It takes a special kind of person to put themselves in harm’s way to help others on a day-to-day basis,” says Dr. Mandy Gattis, Ed.D., MHRO, Project Coordinator South Carolina EMS Association (SCEMSA) “However, when the emergency is over, we don’t often think how these repeated emergent and stressful calls affect the daily lives and the overall behavioral health of first responders.”

First responder behavioral health issues are becoming a commonly studied subject as the topic is becoming increasingly more accepted today. Firefighters, police officers, EMS personnel, Coroners, and other front-line public servants are routinely exposed to stressful events. Many agencies have their own ways to cope with this job stress, the most common being Critical Incident Stress Debriefing or CISD. This is a form of psychological debriefing that includes education and counseling with the end goal of reducing psychological distress through survivors recalling their story in a group setting that is facilitated by CISD-trained professionals. First responders are then encouraged to follow-up with their own mental health providers and materials are provided that list local resources for them to seek on their own. The problem with CISD is that there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the effectiveness of the program. If CISD is not implemented within 24 to 72 hours of the incident causing the trauma, it is far less effective. 

The SC PeerConnect system represents a step forward in the way that organizations are able to respond to traumatic events and support their employees through scheduled check-ins based on the type of traumatic event, recommended check-ins after specific incidents and self-initiated check-ins.

For first responders, peer-to-peer programs are breaking down mental health barriers, reducing stigma, and defining the need for early intervention. South Carolina’s innovative approach to First Responder well-being addresses the emergency call from within.

Learn more about the South Carolina Wellness Initiative.

Learn more about PeerConnect