They spend their lives helping others, but what happens when first responders need help coping with stress and depression? Kevin Ozebek says one Broward city has the answer. It’s tonight’s 7 Spotlight.
For Coral Springs Police Lt. Joe McHugh, anxiety and depression started with a difficult divorce and then there was the death of his mother.
Lt. Joe McHugh, Coral Springs Police: “Beer was my answer to cope with it. My answer was all the time, just let me sit in the garage and drink. Obviously, it’s not the right answer you want to have.”
Coral Springs Fire Capt. David Schneider fought severe depression after an infection in his foot, complicated by diabetes, that resulted in five hospital stays and several surgeries.
Capt. David Schneider, Coral Springs Fire Department: “It just developed to the point where I couldn’t handle it anymore, and in December of last year I attempted to take my life.”
Both men realized they were struggling.
Capt. Schneider: “I’d been saving lives, and now I needed that help.”
Lt. McHugh: “I have an issue, and I want to seek help, but I’m this big first responder, and I gotta live by this ego.”
Thanks to a groundbreaking mental health program offered by the City of Coral Springs, Joe and David got the help they needed.
Scott Brook, Mayor of Coral Springs: “It’s called BHAP, and it stands for Behavioral Health Access Program.”
Coral Springs Mayor Scott Brook says it’s free and not just for first responders but all city employees and their families, as well.
Scott Brook: “We have to live in a world where mental wellness is equally as vital as physical wellness. It’s been fantastic for our employees to be able to have counseling at no cost to them as well as their families.”
The BHAP program provides one on one counseling, chaplain services, stress management, peer support and even access to the city gym.
Chris Bator, City Safety Health and Wellness Officer: “I’ve seen it work. I’ve seen people go through some difficulties at home, I’ve seen people go through difficulties at work, and ultimately to see them come full circle and have a healthy life, that’s the most important thing.”
For those struggling with substance abuse, there is addiction and recovery help.
Lt. Joe McHugh: “I actually went away for 28 days, and it’s hard when you’re a single dad, and you want to be with your son all the time, but I needed it, and you learned through the program not only about your substance abuse, you learn about self awareness.”
At first, some wouldn’t reach out because of the stigma associated with mental health issues. Now, it’s so successful, it serves as a model for other cities.
Chris Bator: “There’s such a minimal cost, and the cost is much greater if you don’t do anything.”
They hope that other cities in the state will soon follow their lead, because the people who risk their lives to save others, sometimes need saving themselves.
Capt. Schneider: “The mental health is always a work in progress. The BHAP program I think basically saved my life.”
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