On Wellness in WV

I wrote a story for today’s paper about a mindfulness training to be held in the fall for first responders from Kanawha, Putnam and Cabell counties. We have limited space in the paper, but I wanted to share more about the research being conducted on the training, and what agencies that don’t operate in Kanawha, Putnam or Cabell counties can do.

Richard Goerling, a police lieutenant in Oregon who developed a training on first responder resiliency and performance, will be leading the two-and-a-half day training. He says it’s about noticing emotions as they arise, and not spending unnecessary energy trying to control or ignore the emotion. He also says it’s about learning to pay attention to stress-related changes in the body. Goerling said participants will learn “how do we be present and create space for performance with the emotion that arises.”

“Ignoring emotion actually makes us more weak,” he said. “Typically today we wait until first responders are broken and then we try to fix them.”

Organizers have not announced where in the region the event will be held, but it is planned for late fall.

Dr. Michael Brumage, executive director and health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, and Brittany Canady, a health psychologist at Marshall University, applied for a $49,000 grant to get the training. West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute will conduct research on it, based on standardized self-assessments, and will test the presence of stress hormones in a person’s saliva before the training and then again weeks after it’s over. Researchers will measure participants’ baseline emotional physical and mental well-being through questionnaires and also measure salivary cortisol level (an indicator of stress). They predict changes in mindfulness, physical health, mental health and stress, and that those changes will be reflected in salivary cortisol levels at 4 weeks and 90 days after the intervention.

The grant application says that results “will be shared with the first responder community.” But only about 70 people will be trained.

“Our hope is that we can test out this intervention, hopefully find out that it’s helping people, and then be able to relay those results to others so the word can get out,” Canady said. “There’s really nothing that we know of that’s been done with first responders in Appalachia.”

Here’s what organizers told me about what other counties with fewer resources could do:

Goerling suggested that West Virginia agencies that lack funds to hold similar trainings could look for local yoga trainers. He also noted that in early 2018, Pacific University Graduate School of Psychology in Oregon and the University of California San Diego Center for Mindfulness will launch a peer coach training. West Virginia agencies could send representatives, who could then come back and train staff. He also recommended pooling resources with other local and regional agencies.

Brumage also noted that there are meditation and tai chi groups in the region.

“I think our best advocates for this kind of training will come from the first responder community themselves,” he said.