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Indiana lawmakers looking at ways to address mental health issues among first responders

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Posted at 10:11 PM, Sep 13, 2023

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers are studying several ways to address the mental health crisis among veterans and first responders.

Firefighters, EMS and police officers are more likely to experience symptoms of PTSD than the general public.

Mental Health America of Indiana presented what symptoms people suffering from PTSD face to lawmakers on the committee.

7% of firefighters suffer from PTSD while 6% of police officers suffer from the mental health disorder. EMS personnel have the highest rates of the disorder at 15%

“In 12 years of EMS leadership and management, I have had four individuals commit suicide, three attempts and multiple individuals who have been fortunate enough to check themselves into facilities and get the help they need before it got to that,” Nathaniel Metz, Paramedic and President of Indiana EMS Association, said.

Metz says often, paramedics and EMTs are left out of the conversation when it comes to first responders and mental health access. He hopes the legislature will take a closer look at the issues plaguing the profession.

"Our agency provides short term disability for all of our staff, free of charge,” Metz said. “That's an expense that is increased to deal with this issue while our state is still inadequately funding EMS specific activities. So, I think funding for research would be a really good step."

During this study, committee lawmakers also heard about new research for a unconventional way to treat certain mental health disorders.

"All too often, the treatments and prescriptions we have to help people who are dealing with mental health issues just aren't working," Ben Unger, with Psilocybin Policy for a New Approach, said. “So, we are proposing a new alternative: psilocybin therapy.”

Psilocybin is often called to magic mushrooms. It’s a drug that is often referred to as a psychedelic. In recent years, it’s been studied by doctors to treat mental health disorders.

Studies have shown psilocybin can help people with severe PTSD, depression and anxiety. It’s currently a Schedule 1 drug and illegal in the United States.

When used to treat mental health disorders, the treatments are given to patients in controlled environments where doctors monitor the patient and stay with them until the effects of the drug wear off. Advocates of the treatment hope Indiana will consider allowing the use to take place.

"Our goal here is to create a psilocybin therapy practice that gives people access to safe, regulated psilocybin therapy from trained professionals who can really help people. It's way different then people going out and buying something by themselves, " Unger said.

Access to mental health in general isn't easy to come by in the Hoosier state. There is a shortage of providers, which is something Mental Health America of Indiana hopes the legislature will look at ways to fix.

"We are in the bottom few states in terms of the number of psychiatrists we have compared to the population that we have, " Dr. Diana Reis, Medical Director for Mental Health America of Indiana, said.

There are currently two states that allow the use of Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy. Those states are Oregon and Colorado.

Oregon and Colorado are currently the only two states that allow the use of psilocybin-assisted therapy.

For more information on the practice, click here.