Recovery center treats burnout and stress among first responders

Recovery center treats burnout and stress among first responders
Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 9:54 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - The poor state of officers’ mental health has pushed many out of the profession. A handful of specialized treatment centers are trying to meet demand. Centers like Nevada Peer Support Network in Reno is one of them.

“People get into this career not knowing what to expect,” said Ryan Simpson, a therapist for the Nevada Peer Support Network.

But Simpson wasn’t always in the mental health field. He was in law enforcement himself working in Elko for a year before doing 10 years with the Sparks Police Department. He is candid about his own struggles with mental health and will openly admit he experienced some trauma as an officer. That trauma led Simpson to want to help other officers struggling with the more difficult side of the job, as public safety is a profession plagued by high rates of mental health and addiction problems.

“Burnout is a prelude to other things that happen,” Simpson says.

Poor mental health, combined with low morale, has contributed to an exodus of police across the country that has left departments understaffed and the remaining officers overworked and exhausted. According to Simpson, Reno is no exception and he says we are average with the rest of the country when it comes to low staffing levels. Researchers say first responders are also more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. The discrepancy in suicide rates among the general population and first responders is rooted in an unaddressed shame and stigma associated with suicide, as well as a lack of resources. That’s where Simpson and the Nevada Peer Support Network come in.

“Rather than try to fix Humpty Dumpty when he falls off the wall, we’re trying to make it where Humpty Dumpty knows how to fix himself and doesn’t fall off the wall,” says Simpson.

Specialized recovery facilities like Nevada Peer Support Network focus on treating law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and dispatchers — those who regularly encounters violence and death, by using peer support teams.

“What we try to do is build a network of peer members to come in and let that agency grieve and do that they need to do,” Simpson explains.

If they can get to the root cause, they can prevent burnout from happening in the first place.

“The national average would show that 19% of officers have diagnosable PTSD,” says Simpson.

Simpson says that it’s often difficult getting people through the door, but once they’re in the results speak for themselves.

“Being vulnerable which is a bad word in the first responder community but that’s where the freedom is,” Simpson said.