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Resiliency Training Aims to Improve First Responders Coping Skills

BILOXI, Miss. — Originating in war-torn parts of Israel, refined in places such as post-9/11 New York City and tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka, Resiliency Training from the Community Stress Prevention Center (CSPC) has arrived in South Mississippi.

Teachers and coordinators for the CSPC arrived in Biloxi s Center for Community Resilience from their home base in Kiryat Shmona, Israel, earlier this week to prepare to train first-responders to not only cope better after disasters, but teach others to call upon their own natural coping mechanisms.

John Olson, interim director of the Center for Community Resilience, said trainers wanted to focus on first-responders both to prepare for future disasters and deal with an immediate need.

You ve got a lot of people who ve left the various forces because they just can t handle it anymore, said Olson, adding no one is immune to the negative effects of trauma after a disaster. You can t be so hard to not say it s heartbreaking.

The training is being done in partnership with the Mental Health Association of Mississippi and is funded largely through the UJA-Federation of New York. Part of the uniqueness of the training is it is taking place only in South Mississippi.

Ruvie Rogel, deputy CEO of CSPC, said they practice a viral-like type of training, in which they train a small group of first-responders, who in turn train a larger group of others, and so on.

Rogel said there are two main reasons first-responders do not take care of themselves and their mental health. The first is the assumption they do not need help, which is peculiar considering they usually experience the worst disasters have to offer. The second reason is the general macho culture of first-responders, especially police and fire fighters.

Resiliency Training was especially designed to address that, Rogel said.

We don t look for pathologies, Rogel said. We look for the strength of people. We come from the positive. This is based on the belief that everyone has coping skills.

Still, Rogel said, they have a long way to go to combat the general stigma of mental-health treatment. The initial response to joining the free training has been lukewarm from most local police, fire and EMS services.

We re not talking mental illness, we re talking mental health, Rogel said. When you cut your hand, you go treat it. How come you never do it when there s a mental thing?