Breaking the Stigma

Local group working to help first responders with mental health, intervention therapy

PITTSBURGH — Tragedy can be seen in the eyes of a first responder almost daily.

“We are out there on the calls, we see the things nobody should really see and we have to continue to do our jobs and push forward,” said North Strabane Fire Chief Rich Yosi.

Without an outlet, mentally the job can take a toll. That’s why Yosi signed up to be trained in two mental health protocols for non-clinical intervention treatments.

“They are visualizing and it works subconsciously so they don’t have to relive it fully in their mind and it’s all subconscious and it’s happening almost without knowing,” said Jill McVay who’s a mental health therapist and volunteer firefighter.

This group of first responders throughout the area were trained together at the Village Center for Holistic Therapy with grant funding. While the process not just helps them, it’s the techniques they’ve now learned they can take back to their department. If they spot signs someone is in distress, they can implement a 15-minute intervention session right on the spot.

“I think as a leader of the department it’s up to me to eliminate that stigma and show our members we are here for them, and it starts at the top for us to open and talk to help someone seek the help they need. If I’m not part of the change it’s hard to make that change happen,” Yosi said.

It comes as first responder suicide is on the rise.

“We are dying by our own hands more frequently than on emergency calls so it’s important for us to help save each other and save ourselves,” McVay said.

While this is just the first round of this type of training in our area, the group hopes it will grow to help these responders help each other.

“I think it really helps the stigma, because you are working through it with people you trust and people you trust with your life on a call. You don’t have to walk into a therapy office and talk to a complete stranger,” McVay said.

If you are a first responder, veteran or even a family member who could benefit from this intervention therapy, the Village Center for Holistic Therapy will be hosting free hour-long sessions from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 13 at their Shaler location. More information can be found here.

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