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Minnesota nonprofit opening first responder support center focused on mental health

Minnesota nonprofit opening first responder support center focused on mental health
Minnesota nonprofit opening first responder support center focused on mental health 03:30

FOREST LAKE, Minn. — A Minnesota nonprofit is working to break down barriers surrounding mental health and start important conversations among those working the frontline of public safety.

"I don't want to ever have anybody feel like they're stuck," Invisible Wounds Project Founder and Executive Founder Russ Hanes said.

Hanes was once there himself.

"I was 17 years a police officer, 911 dispatcher and a corrections officer. I was at my lowest point," Hanes said. "Struggling with PTSD, suicidal ideation. I couldn't find anybody — I couldn't find anybody because I wasn't a vet."

It's why Hanes founded The Invisible Wounds Project in 2018. The nonprofit is dedicated to serving Minnesota's military, first responders, frontline medical staff, dispatch and more. The goal is to open up the conversation surrounding mental health — the wounds you can't see — and get them help. 

With the death of Minneapolis officer Jamal Mitchell, it's been a heavy few weeks within that community.

"In the last two weeks we've had five people that represent these lines, that are not veterans, that died of suicide," Hanes said, pointing at the stripes on his shirt. "And that's just the ones we know of. We know that officer Jamal Mitchell paid the ultimate sacrifice two weeks ago. What's not known is that he went to the hospital at HCMC, one of the critical care nurses that took care of him, after shift — that nurse had also taken care of the Burnsville shooting — that nurse died of suicide. That's not public, that's not known."

It's heartbreaking stories like that one that keep Hanes doing the tough work — to connect first responders with others facing similar battles, to let them know they're not alone and provide access to potentially life-saving help. That mission is now at the forefront in Forest Lake with a soon-to-be, first-of-its-kind facility: A first responder support center.

"This is meant to be a space for people to go, connect with others, get therapeutic access, therapeutic services. And it's really a community, where they're not alone. They're not the only ones who are going through that," Hanes said.

Hanes says once it's up and running next month, the center will be filled with activities; from art and woodworking to yoga education and above all hope.

The center has a spot opening in July. Hanes is confident its impact will be immense — but they need help. If you'd like to donate to the cause, click here.

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