First responders in South Dakota are gaining access to free mental-health services. Lawmakers passed the new programs during the 2021 session, and members of a legislative task force received updates at a recent meeting.
Representative Ryan Cwach of Yankton is the vice-chair of the Mental Health of First Responders Task Force. He says one new program is for volunteer firefighters and EMTs. The program will provide free mental health insurance and a hotline connecting volunteer first responders with local mental health providers.
Cwach says another important new program is the Hero Wellness Grant. Lawmakers set aside money in that program for peer-support training grants. Cwach says peer-support training helps empower first responders to talk about the stresses of being an EMT, 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 brings people in law enforcement office in, and they learn tips and skills about how to actually facilitate communication within their department about the kind of the mental health stressors that they’re going through during the day.”
South Dakota’s Division of Criminal Investigation will administer the grants.
Cwach says the Mental Health of First Responders Task Force has only scratched the surface on helping firefighters, E-M-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.