A new Missouri law helps the state’s first responders get mental health services. It’s sponsored by Rep. Chad Perkins, R-Bowling Green, who wanted to classify 911 dispatch members as first responders.

“The thing about being a dispatcher is that it’s an incredibly stressful job,” Perkins said. “You know, you often times see events held for firemen and for paramedics and for police officers, and you don’t necessarily see those folks who are really the first first responder. The person who answers that telephone call in a person’s most stressful time of need.”

The Missouri First Responder Mental Health Initiative Act covers peer-to-peer counseling and professional counseling. It will also reimburse first responders for behavioral health care through a grant program.

“If you’re taking phone calls on a daily basis where someone is screaming at you over something that’s going on in their life and you can’t see it, you’re not there, what you can do is help to calm that situation and get them the help that they need,” said Perkins. “That’s a stressful job to be able to do that. I think it’s absolutely appropriate. Good dispatchers are an integral part of our first responder system.”

The new law also allows 911 dispatchers to retire a little bit earlier and it makes healthcare benefits available for those seeking mental health care.

“The fact is mental health is a real concern,” stated Perkins. “It is a health condition that we don’t need to be ashamed of. Seeking out professional help is the only way to fix that. Historically, if we’ve had some other health concerns, a heart condition or some diabetic condition, whatever it might be, we didn’t hesitate at all to go see a medical professional.”

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