AUSTIN (KXAN) — Several new efforts to provide mental health resources could be coming for Austin’s first responders.

In 2019, the Austin City Council directed city staff to study how to fill the gaps in mental health resources for EMS, fire and police personnel. On Monday, the Public Safety Commission approved the study results and the recommendations made for improvements.

A document provided during the meeting stated the commission believes that “the mental and physical health of our first responders is key to the safety of the citizens of Austin.”

They voted 6 to 1 to support the following efforts:

  • Establish a city-sponsored fund to retain a psychiatrist for first responders
  • Establish protocol for mental health days
  • Provide specialized training for public safety leadership on handling mental health issues for first responders
  • Develop and administer training on social-justice-informed mental health care
  • Hire two full-time employees to assist psychologists and Peer Support coordinators
  • Additional funding for peer support activities
  • Revisit departmental policies for to accept the use of CBD oil for first responders
  • Implement annual behavioral health check-ins for first responders
  • Increased funding allocation for Dr. Tania Glenn & Associates (third-party counselor and resource)
  • Coordinate a joint statement from City leadership, Associations, and Department management that commits to limitations on sharing mental health treatment information and that seeking therapy will not have negative repercussions on a first responder’s career

Regarding the department policies on CBD oil, the chiefs of staff of each agency noted their officers and employees are permitted to use legal hemp or CBD products. Still, the have to caution them against any product that could cause a random drug test to come back positive.

Reena Kaven, owner of Tribe CBD and Cannabinoids in North Austin, explained that some CBD products feature small, legal amounts of THC to help the CBD “work better” in the body. These are called “full-spectrum” products.

“For mental health it’s especially important, whether it’s people with severe PTSD,” she said. “Use of CBD can lift the mood, help us focus, and relieve us of all the stress and anxiety of these every day bombardments of bad news.”

She said she’s aware of some first responders as customers and isn’t shocked, given the high stress nature of their jobs. She often recommends products, however, with the THC fully extracted — called “broad-spectrum.”

“It can build up in your system overtime and pop a drug test positive,” Kaven said.

Austin Fire Department’s Chief of Staff Rob Vires noted, “We did send a notice out to our department just making people aware, there’s no regulation over CBD oil — and there’s no ability to tell the difference.”

Kaven warned about illegal products, featuring more THC while masquerading as legal, making their way into Texas from states like California.

“The key is education. You go into a store, and somebody knows what they are talking about and can provide you with this kind of information about full-spectrum or broad-spectrum, and how it would effect you in a drug test,” she said, “Then you’ll find a safe product.”