When heroes need help: NJ program offers treatment lifeline to first responders
Sean Sprich was a corrections officer at the Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility in Clinton Township and an executive vice president of his PBA local when he crashed his car into the side of a road in 2015.
The law enforcement officer found himself getting arrested and booked at police headquarters on charges of driving under the influence.
Looking back, he says he needed help — which he got from the Princeton House First Responder Treatment Services, a program designed for first responders struggling with substance abuse and psychological issues.
Years later, Sprich serves as a peer liaison for the program, helping fellow men and women in uniform who are going through similar rough times.
About 700 first responders, members of the military and their families have received in-patient services from the program over the past four years.
Michael Bizzarro, director of clinical services for the First Responder Treatment Program at Princeton House Behavioral Health, says that because of the nature of their jobs, many first responders have a tough time expressing their emotions.
“They’re responding to a horrific scene. The last thing you’d want a first responder to be is emotional,” he said.
Sprich said he kept the pressures from work bottled up for years.
“It just takes time for everything to mount up and get on top of you, until it really starts to squeeze you,” he said. “You throw in your hours and your scheduling and not resting and not taking care of yourself — that’s what leads to these breakdowns.”
He said by getting into a tailor-made first responders program, “it lowers the anxiety level significantly and gets the person to the people that understand the mindset, the psychology of what we do.”
Program staff are former police and corrections officers and combat veterans. According to Bizzarro, a former police officer and member of the military himself, the program includes a broad spectrum of services. Treatment lasts about 14 days.
Bizarro says that when you hold things inside for a long time, “the next thing you know, you’re not really getting in touch with your emotions and you wind up repressing or suppressing them and not talking about them.
“First responders are great at helping other people; they’re somewhat reluctant to talk about what may be bothering them.”
He said before they seek help, “many of them wait until they get themselves in a bit of a jam, whether it’s alcohol or injuries on duty where they’re prescribed pain medication.”
“This can cause marital and financial stress, because when you don’t bring your work home and do not share it with your significant other, it causes a real disconnect and puts stress on any relationship," Bizzarro said.
“Eventually, you’re going to have to deal with issues inside, and being able to trust the people you’re with is very important. Confidentiality is at the top of our list.”
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.