OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Officers, firefighters and paramedics from across Central Florida came together Tuesday to discuss the often-overlooked topic of mental health in their professions.
As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Osceola Regional Medical Center hosted a summit designed around the challenges that first responders face daily.
Claudia Swonger, director of community outreach at the hospital, organized the gathering to help attendees understand the importance of mental health.
“One of the things we focus on is that mental health is just as important as physical health,” Swonger said. “It’s OK to reach out for help. It’s OK to not have good days and just to take care of themselves.”
Swonger said the coronavirus pandemic has added even further stress to first responders over the last 18 months.
“That has definitely increased their anxiety, depression, stress and just trauma in general,” Swonger said. “For some, it gets to the point that they can’t manage it anymore.”
Alex Vazquez, an Orange County firefighter, shared his story of seeking help.
“It was a dive incident that I freaked out underneath. I had a flashback to another dive incident that was 10 years prior,” he said. “Afterwards, I just started having this weird panic attack, some palpitations on my chest and sweaty palms driving by the scene.”
Vazquez sought treatment through therapy and encouraged those at the summit to help others who may be struggling with mental illness.
Osceola Regional Medical Center has several resources available for mental health care.