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Pinellas launches a foundation to help first responders cope with mental health issues

Man in sheriff's uniform speaks to a woman with glasses. They stand in front of a screen in the background.
Sam Turken
/
WLRN
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says the Mental Health for Heroes Foundation will provide resources to help those who "put their lives on the line to keep our community safe."

The Mental Health for Heroes Foundation hopes to provide around 250 hours of paid counseling a month and other mental health services to first responders and their families.

Pinellas County has launched a foundation to help first responders cope with mental health issues and receive grief counseling.

According to a news release, the Mental Health for Heroes Foundation was formed through more than $500,000 in funding from companies across the greater Tampa Bay region, including the Vinik Family Foundation and former beer distributor and Tampa Bay area philanthropist Tom Pepin.

The foundation hopes to provide around 250 hours of paid counseling a month and other mental health services to first responders and their families.

"We need to break the negative stigma in the law enforcement and the first responder community about the need for mental health services," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said in the release. "This is a tough job and while many agencies provide services for their members, some are more limited.

"This program will help eliminate the stigma and provide much needed resources to all of the men and women that put their lives on the line to keep our community safe."

Around 30% of first responders across the country suffer from depression, aggressive behavior, and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the release. In addition, 171 died by suicide last year.

"Our goal is to give back to those who serve us," Pinellas County Commissioner Janet C. Long said in the release. "While there are many mental health programs for the general public, there are very few programs specifically designed to meet the unique needs of first responders.

"This foundation is critical for both first responders and their families in order to restore them to a place of health and wellbeing."

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