Ending the stigma; Mend the Line seeks to provide mental health education to first responders

Published 10:48 am Monday, October 9, 2023

By Abigail Roberts

Correspondent

DANVILLE – A new non-profit is doing all it can do to end the mental health stigma for first responders and help provide counseling and a pathway to services to those who need it.

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Mend the Line was founded by Sonya Kirkpatrick and Jessica Wigginton, two women who have a passion for helping the first responder community.

Sonya Kirkpatrick is a paramedic, who became involved in Emergency Medical Services 23 years ago.

Today, she is a behavioral health therapist working to provide first responders with mental health education, awareness and a path to any services they may need.

Kirkpatrick said after years in the profession, she could see there was a gap in mental health services for first responders in the area.

“Having been in the profession I understand the stigma that’s associated with it,” Kirkpatrick said, “…as well as how hard it may be to ask for help, finding someone you can actually relate to and finding a place that will work with a rotating schedule because a lot of first responders have that rotating schedule.”

The main goal is working to end the stigma of seeking mental health treatment as first responders, she said, as well as helping broker them to services.

Kirkpatrick worked as a paramedic in Lincoln County for many years and is a familiar face to many of those in the first responder community.

“A lot of them know me or know of me, and that helps with the trust, because that’s a population that doesn’t always trust people who don’t understand the dynamics of the job,” she said.

Wigginton also has a passion for helping first responders as she comes from a family of them. Wigginton’s mom was an EMT, her father was a firefighter and her sister is in law enforcement. Her husband was also in Corrections.

Wigginton has always worked in the mental health realm and has provided services to some first responders, but recently, after meeting with Kirkpatrick, she agreed they should do more for that specific community.

Kirkpatrick and Wigginton pulled their resources together to do just that.

“I own the Danville Counseling Center and the training center that we use to kind of get this up and running,” Wigginton said.

Being close to so many first responders, Wigginton said she saw the impact that first responder life can have on a family.

“Seeing the struggles, seeing the impact on the family, that either is just not recognized or we just don’t talk about it, so bringing some awareness and what to do about it,” she said. “It’s a different culture.”

Now the two are providing group training for first responders called “First Responders; Ending Mental Health Stigma.”

The training covers ending the barriers to seeking treatment, some of the things that first responders may go through called areas of concern, and types of treatment.

The training also covers PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) symptoms and suicide statistics and prevention.

“It’s not just a PTSD training, it’s from the beginning, like starting the job, to the end,” Kirkpatrick said. “They’ve had so many suicide and PTSD trainings, we wanted to cover leading up to that.”

The training, and the counseling services they offer, help first responders identify and deal with what they consider “normal” but what the general population would not consider normal.

“Starting that conversation amongst them has really made a difference,” she said.

Mend the Line recently provided this training to Boyle County EMS, something Director Mike Rogers said he was very excited to offer his team.

“I started back in 1999 and, at that time, you just didn’t talk about it, it just wasn’t accepted. And even today, we’re trying to end the stigma, but we’ve created an environment here where we just address it up front and this class is going to help take that one step further,” Rogers said.

The things that first responders see impacts their lives and knowing how to deal with that is important, he said.

“Some people go their whole lives without seeing a dead body; for us that happens weekly,” he said. “People don’t usually call us when they’re having a good time.”

Knowing the suicide rate and September being suicide prevention month, Rogers invited Mend the Line to give their training earlier in September.

“Our goal is to help them develop healthy coping mechanisms and try to avoid the unhealthy coping mechanisms that can lead to further problems,” he said. “We just want to take care of them and make sure they have the resources they need to be able to handle the things that they see every day. I’m just thankful to Sonya and Jessica for addressing this need.”

Heroes Halloween Bash to raise funds for first responder initiatives

To help raise funds for other first responder advocate groups, The Danville Counseling Center and Mend the Line are hosting a Heroes Halloween Bash on Oct. 28.

The event will feature a costume contest as well as a silent auction and t-shirt sale.

All proceeds will go to Camp Hero Kentucky, which provides a space for first responders to have retreats and nature immersion, as well as the Chip Terry Fund for first responders, which links first responders to mental health services and will pay for it if needed.

The bulk of the proceeds will go to the Chip Terry Fund, as they help pay for mental health services for first responders, Kirkpatrick said.

Both organizations work to keep first responders healthy and feeling supported, she said.

Tickets to the Hero’s Halloween Bash are $50 donations to these causes.

The event will take place at the Showroom in Danville from 6 to 11 p.m. Tickets will provide food, music, dancing, a cash bar, a raffle and silent auction.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Kirkpatrick said.

You can find more information on the Facebook page Mend the Line.

Sonya Kirkpatrick, left, and Jessica Wigginton, right, of Mend the Line, with Boyle County EMS Director Mike Rogers. Mend the Line recently provided Boyle County EMS workers with their mental health training for first responders. Photo submitted