HFD Peer Support Counselor talks about the importance of mental health for first responders

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — May is mental health month, but for Harrisonburg Fire Department members, these conversations take place every day of the year.

Staffed with a peer support counselor, 17 peer support mentors and local clinicians, crew members with both career and volunteer status have someone to talk to.

“Being able to open up and have a way or a coping skill that can relieve that stress is monumental in mental well-being, physical well-being and also longevity in this job. You need that mental health support, you need that family atmosphere for people to let go of that stress,” said Gene Thompson, peer support advisor for the Harrisonburg Fire Department.

Thompson adds that while there are professional resources in the community, having more specific options for not just firefighters, but all first responders would only help.

“One of the biggest mental health issues with first responders is having a doctor who understands what we’re going through and how we’re going through it. Finding those clinicians and those resources and this isn’t just in the city of Harrisonburg, this is in the state of Virginia, where we have a shortage of counselors who can actually help us,” Thompson explained.

Gene and his wife Sarah also provide training and resources to first responders across the state through their nonprofit Virginia First Responder Support Services.

Copyright 2022 WHSV. All rights reserved.

Leave a Comment