New program offers mental health support for Ohio first responders, their families

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Nick Malo could never imagine the things he would experience in his 16 years as an Ohio State Trooper.

"The fatal accidents, the death notifications that you have to do," he said. "I've been involved in several shootings, unfortunately. I've also been involved in different officer rescues where officers haven't made it."

They are traumas he accepted as part of the job and felt like he was managing. His wife Nikki felt otherwise.

"Even though he would say that he was fine, it was very clear to me and our kids that he wasn't fine," she said.

"Beneath the uniform, beneath the badge, is a person," Ohio State Highway Patrol Lieutenant Steve Click said.

He said the mental and emotional well-being of the people behind the badge, of all first responders, is the focus of a new program being introduced in Ohio in March.

10TV's cameras were inside a training session for the ASSIST Program, training public safety personnel as peer counselors.

As part of the program, they meet with first responders and their spouses in a three-day seminar with others who've been in their shoes.

"Sometimes it's the first time these people have been able to tell their story- not in an operational or interview, but just being able to talk about what they went through and what it meant to them, in a room full of people who understand," Click said. "They're not judging, they're not criticizing."

Malo admits being skeptical.

"Hug Camp," he laughed. "I joked that we were going to 'Hug Camp.'"

But on day one, he changed his tune.

"I knew right then and there, that everything she had been telling me before- I wasn't handling things correctly," he said.

"It helped very much because he was understanding how I was feeling. I was understanding more how he was feeling," said Nikki Malo. "And it gave him some tools to cope that are very productive tools."

Click said it's not just the officers and their families who benefit.

"That just makes for better officers, firefighters, corrections officers, paramedics. It makes the community safer," he said.

For other skeptics, Trooper Malo has a message.

"This is a place that you can go and feel safe because you're with peers. And there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And we as peers can help you find the end of that tunnel," he said.

The three-day seminar is free for first responders and their spouses.
Lieutenant Click has participated in this program in other states and says he's seen it save lives.

The first ASSIST seminar in Ohio is set for March. For more information, click here.