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Helpline aims to assist Texas first responders battling mental health disorders

A 2017 study showed first responders are struggling with mental health issues.

HOUSTON — First responders in Texas can now call a confidential phone number to seek treatment for substance use and mental health disorders. It is set up through the HEROES Program at UTHealth.

Firefighters, police and paramedics take an oath to honor, serve and protect. Sometimes, that means putting their own lives in danger. But as a UTHealth professor and director of HEROES, Dr. James Langabeer said first responders can also be the most vulnerable.

“We're really good with jumping in and fighting a fire, picking up after a great flood. We know we can send people in, but then this (pandemic) is going on a long time and it creates a lot of stress in everybody's minds,” Langabeer said.

A 2017 study conducted by the University of Phoenix on the mental health of first responders revealed firefighters, police officers and paramedics are struggling with mental health issues.

Of the 2,000 first responders surveyed across the country, 69% suffered from a lack of sleep, 46% from anxiety and 7% were diagnosed with depression.

Sadly, Langabeer said, those syndromes can lead to substance abuse or, worse, suicide.

RELATED: New York ER doctor on front line of coronavirus pandemic dies by suicide

“Because there's a lot of pride, there's a lot of other factors in those professions, it makes it very difficult for people to want to seek treatment on their own,” Langabeer said.

Langabeer and his team at UTHealth have launched a confidential help line for all active and retired first responders in Texas.

When they call 1-833-367-4689, they will be screened and referred to counselors or treatment programs that fit their needs.

“We want to find out what's the best way to treat people with mental health and substance use disorders that are also first responders,” Langabeer said.

Langabeer said his team will study the results to get a better understanding of how first responders are impacted by pandemics and track their treatment patterns.

To protect the participants’ identities, the results will not be shared with anyone outside of the research team.

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