Mental Health Board - Ada Herald

HARDIN COUNTY — First responders - police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians - rarely know the type of environment they will be walking into when a called into service. The same can be said for social workers with Child & Family Services, advocates with Crime Victim Services, or, really, anyone who comes to the aid of those in need or works to provide assistance to the unlucky, the unfortunate, and to those who have lost their way.
Consistently being confronted with tragedy and its devastating effects can leave a terrible toll on even the most resilient among us. Fortunately, support exists for those whose work requires them to shoulder such burdens.

The Critical Incident Stress Management team, “…helps people be resistant, to be resilient, and recover from critical incident stress,” say a flyer explaining the CISM services. “During times of critical incidents, the normal coping mechanisms most people rely upon on a daily basis are stretched to their limits. It is not uncommon for the situation to be so overwhelming that even a well trained individual may not recognize that they are being affected by the incident.”

Rick Skilliter, Coordinator for the CISM program described the program in more detail, saying, “As a whole, [emergency response] professions are dealing with what we’re now calling ‘secondary trauma’ or ‘vicarious traumatization’ or ‘compassion fatigue.’ They all kind of, with different tweaks, blend together in describing the experience of emergency services in large part, but could describe the experiences other professions as well.”

“Those that work in those professions see and are exposed to other people’s sad days,” Skilliter continues. “They are impacted and carry some of that away. So, that builds up over time.”

“I believe wholly that to have our emergency services people be well rounded and effective service providers, they have to have a handle on where they are in life themselves. This program, while it’s not counseling, does offer supportive guided discussion and supportive connection to peers who have had similar occupational or life experiences. It helps them be better at what they do.”

Skilliter repeatedly emphasizes that the CISM program is not a counseling service. The team members are drawn from a variety of different backgrounds, and many are not mental health clinicians.

“We take an eclectic group of individuals,” Skilliter says. “The initial training, is in large part about where [they] come from in life? For example, law enforcement, emergency medical services, fire services, clergy, chaplaincy, education - that background is the baseline that brings [CISM team members] to a point in life where [they] presumably want to be a compassionate presence in people’s lives when something tragic has happened.”

“From there,” Skilliter continues, “Our particular training program is a 14 hour training program. We have the ability to break it up for convenient scheduling, but 14 hours on interaction with folks that are in crises. How to stabilize that,not fix. Because in the immediacy after a critical incident, it’s about stabilizing and providing support, not trying to fix, and actually recognizing that you can’t fix it while they’re still in the aftermath of it.”

“So, part of the training deals with resources and referrals. Who do you get them connected to if there is a need for further support or longer term support. CISM is intended to be a short term intervention process, usually within the first 30 days. Most of the time, it’s not that long. But, the longer ones might go out 30 days, but then at that point the concept is to refer them to professional care and services. And, it’s important to know what those care and services look like, so that’s all covered as part of the training program as well.”

“Not everybody feels comfortable approaching or having a conversation with a mental health clinician. So this program, while it has a component of mental health to it, it’s really about support and care on a compassionate level with our colleagues and recognizing how to get them connected to more help….One size doesn’t fit all. We can adapt and go from one person to hundreds of people and anywhere in between, and still be able to apply the concepts. It really is a comprehensive program that can adjust based on the circumstances.”
The program is supported by the The Mental Health, Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Boards of the five counties it serves - Allen, Auglaize, Hancock, Hardin, and Putnam. There is no charge to agencies using CISM services, though further assistance provided through referrals may come with a cost of their own. In the five county area the CISM team serves, the services were utilized 31 times in 2017, according to Skilliter, and the team has been called upon 22 times so far in 2018.