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CON to Explore First Responders’ Mental Health Needs

March 2, 2016 | Sara Jones, PhD, APRN, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Nursing, recently received a $3,000 grant from the International Society of Psychiatric- Nurses Foundation to explore the mental health needs of first responders in Arkansas and the way mental health services are perceived and accessed by this at-risk population.

Jones, who is also coordinator for the college’s Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specialty, received $5,000 in additional funding from the College of Nursing intramural grant.

Jones was drawn to the topic by stories from her husband, who is a firefighter in North Little Rock, and the lack of research regarding first responders, including paramedics and firefighters.

Her study aims to create a comprehensive mental health profile of the state’s first responders through an anonymous, online survey with questions related to general health, life events, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, alcohol use, anxiety, sleep patterns, and suicide.

Jones said she hopes for about 500 responses to the survey.

“I expect preliminary data from the survey to show, yes, first responders experience significant mental health problems,” said Jones. “The nature, frequency and intensity of daily traumatic exposures put them at significant risk of developing mental health disorders; however, the stigma associated with it is so high, most don’t access available services.”

After gathering a profile of first responders, Jones will conduct 20 to 25 individual interviews to explore their perceptions of accessing mental health services.

Jones hopes to use study findings to apply for funding from the National Institute of Mental Health to pilot a tailored program consisting of various mental health services, in an effort to improve awareness and access by first responders across the state.

“Ultimately, the goal is to compile a toolkit of sorts for first responders, not necessarily develop new interventions,” said Jones. “Improving their access to these services would improve the excellent care first responders provide to our communities and give them a better quality of life.”

Jean C. McSweeney, PhD, RN, the College of Nursing’s associate dean for research who is serving as qualitative expert on the study, said Jones’ work is very important to help learn how first responders deal with stress associated with their profession.

“We need to find ways to protect their health, and this grant is an important first step in developing a program to assist them to deal with their high-stress jobs,” she said.

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