South Dakota first responders have access to free mental health services. Lawmakers passed the new agendas in the 2021 session and members of a legislative working group received updates at a recent meeting.
Representative Ryan Cwach of Yankton is the vice chair of the First Responder Mental Health Task Force. He says a new program is for volunteer firefighters and paramedics. The program will provide free mental health insurance and a hotline connecting volunteer first responders with local mental health care providers.
Cwach says another important new program is the Hero Wellness Grant. Lawmakers have set aside money in this program for peer training grants. Cwach says the peer support training helps first responders talk about the stress of being a paramedic, firefighter and police officer. He says first responders are more likely to open up to other first responders about mental health issues.
“So what the peer support training does, it actually gets people into law enforcement offices, and they learn tips and skills on how to actually facilitate communication within their community. service on the type of mental health stressors they go through during the day. ”
The South Dakota Criminal Investigation Division will administer the grants.
Cwach says the first responder mental health task force has only scratched the surface to help firefighters, EM-Ts and law enforcement. He says the task force will continue to investigate how mental health affects the retention and recruitment of quality first responders.