Thursday August 31, 2017
The persistent stigma around seeking assistance to cope with mental health issues can be a tremendous barrier to getting the help one needs, and the city is making it a priority that access to information and resources is readily available for its employees and staff. A noticeable uptick in mental health related crises has garnered statewide attention, and measures are being put in place to fine tune community response. Law enforcement and first responders have been affected by the increase in mental health related calls, but the stresses of everyday life at home or at work can involve anyone. Councilor Tim Barritt, who has had three tragic incidents happen at his place of employment in a short period of time brought the topic forward for discussion at the August 21 council meeting.
Barritt stressed that every employee needs easy access to EAP, the Employee Assistance Program, which is a free, confidential counseling service offered to all city employees regardless of part or full time status. “Ensure everyone knows how to use this,” Barritt said, “I want somebody who is feeling bad to take a chance, call the number, and know that the person on the other end of the phone will care about their life.” Barritt suggested employees be reminded about the program at least four times per year, not just at an annual review to re-up their health insurance.
Rebecca Weaver, a representative from EAP was on hand to review the program with the council and public. The employee assistance program offers short term counseling services on a range of issues. The person who answers the call determines the nature of it and directs the call to the appropriate staff person who can then help create an action plan to assist the individual calling. The program can also provide and gather information on a number of subjects, free for the first 30 minutes, including finding an attorney or information on retirement.
South Burlington Police Chief Trevor Whipple said that his department takes mental health extremely seriously and it is a regular part of conversation. After 37 years as a police officer, he has seen an increase in stressors affecting law enforcement. In response to this uptick, Sonny Provetto, a mental health counselor, is on staff to provide assistance to the department, and has become an integral part of their department. In addition to having office hours at the station, Provetto gets to know the officers one on one, showing up at lunch or dinner, going out for a coffee or even on patrols. Critical incident debriefings by the chief are also regular occurrences to stay on top of the potential need for response. Provetto’s availability during unconventional hours also provides the opportunity for spontaneous conversations. In addition to traditional counseling, mindfulness meditation techniques have been taught as a way to remain calm before, during, and after tense situations.
South Burlington Fire Chief Doug Brent said he liked the idea of having a contract counselor like the police department; someone who could just drop in and be around for those who want to talk. Brent described the beginning of his 44-year career, when the expected response to experiencing stressful situations was the “suck it up” mentality common in Vietnam Veterans. “That’s not the way to take care of things,” Brent said. Although the fire department does not have a counselor on staff, they do use the services of EAP and have had great success with their program. Brent added that it is important that staff is comfortable with the program, “otherwise, they’re not going to use it,” he said.
After the presentation, City Manager Kevin Dorn requested that EAP contact information be included with the next paychecks of all employees. He also suggested setting up a staff meeting with EAP and all managers to make sure everyone understands how best to assist members of their teams.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent