Missouri wants first responders to ask for backup when they need help coping with traumas they see on the job. Javier Bustos, with Warrior’s Rest Foundation, said Missouri is building resilience among its first responders by providing free peer support training to them.

“You are not weak if you talk. In fact, you’re strong if you talk about what is going on. Don’t suffer in silence,” he said.

Missouri has partnered with the organization to provide the free training to law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical services, dispatchers, and public safety chaplains. The classes are designed to build teams that can recognize the signs of stress among their team members and intervene to lend a hand.

“These Missouri first responder peers are going to be the first responders for the first responders in Missouri. They’re going to be there initially to help provide them with mental health help,” he said. “They’re going to provide the opportunity for them to have a trusted, confidential, first responder, who is a peer, to talk to them about what they’re experiencing, their emotions, their feelings, so that way they just don’t keep it inside.”

The training prioritizes emotional health and physical wellness to protect career longevity. He said there is a “tidal wave” of first responders who have experienced trauma in their personal and professional lives.

“Just like what is going on across the entire United States, we have first responders who are out there, who are doing an amazing job helping the people of the United States, but these first responders- they see a lot of horrific scenes and they experienced a lot of trauma,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates about 34% of America’s first responders develop behavioral health conditions, including, depression and PTSD.

Bustos, a retired Austin, Texas police officer and U.S. Air Force veteran, said mental health first aid of first responders is an important investment.

“A department, whether it’s fire, police, EMS, you can spend a lot of dollars, and millions of dollars in a budget to get the best equipment for your first responders. Well, I also feel that budgeting for mental health help for the first responders is just as important, because you can have all the great equipment but if you don’t have healthy first responders to use that equipment, then that’s not a good investment,” he said.

Free classes are offered several times a year in a variety of Missouri cities, with one coming up May 31 in Weldon Spring. To find out more, click here.

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