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NJ Therapists Offer Free Zoom Sessions To First Responders, Families

MILLBURN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it's expected PTSD among first line workers will skyrocket as the COVID-19 crisis settles down.

Now, a New Jersey therapy group is stepping up to make sure no first responder feels alone in dealing with the trauma.

The meticulous process of suiting up with PPE before every single emergency call is one that doesn't allow for any mistakes.

"It's exhausting," said Melissa Campbell with the Millburn-Short Hills Volunteer First Aid Squad.

Doing it perfectly every time plus caring for COVID patients day after day for more than eight weeks is weighing heavily on the minds of first responders.

"If you're taking somebody who's gasping for air, it's going to be in your mind," Campbell told CBS2's Jessica Layton.

RELATED STORY: Volunteer Ambulance Squad Members Continue To Show Courage, Commitment On Front Lines Of COVID-19 Fight

Campbell is not only the captain of her volunteer first aid squad, she's also a nurse at a local hospital, and she's worried non-stop about exposing her husband and three kids.

"Stressed, anxious, having those weird dreams, need somebody to vent to," she said.


Licensed clinical social worker Beth Levy-Merlin heard the call for help.

"People are suffering. Everybody's anxious," she said.

All 15 therapists at her practice, Roseland Psychotherapy Associates, are now offering a free 45-minute Zoom therapy session to any first responder and their families.

Levy-Merlin says the idea came out of a conversation with her husband. Dr. Mark Merlin runs a nonprofit group of ER physicians that assist on emergency calls.

"So when we don't talk about our feelings, things just kind of bottleneck inside of us and then they come out in other ways," he said.

RELATED STORY: Expert Says Coronavirus Mental Health Curve Will Take Even Longer To Flatten

Usually when people start to calm down from crisis is when their bad feelings start to come up. The Merlins helping to connect first responders with mental health services will absolutely save lives in the long run.

"Therapy helps people not succumb to depression and addiction and suicide and all of the things that might come later," Levy-Merlin said.

With fears of a second wave coming, Campbell believes therapy will benefit everyone on the front lines, even if the magnitude of past memories are tough to articulate.

"I don't know if they'll be able to put it in words. It may take time for them to put in words," Campbell said.

But it's comforting to know there's a place where they can try.

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