Texarkana, Ark. police officers launch peer support group for fellow first responders

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Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 3:31 PM CDT
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TEXARKANA, Ark. (KSLA) - Working in the field of public safety can be a stressful job that affects one’s mental health. A group of Texarkana police officers are trying to bring a bit of relief to fellow first responders.

“I was really feeling some of the pressure in my mental health,” said Shawna Yonts, an officer with the Texarkana Arkansas Police Department.

Yonts an Scott Megason are both veteran Texarkana police officers, with 50 years of experience between the two. During their tenure, these officers say they have worked many cases that have affected them mentally and emotionally, like the death of a Miller County correctional officer.

“I knew it was bad. It really was like a trigger for me that made me realize that I needed to get some peer support,” Yonts said.

And then there was the 2018 murder of a small child by his mother.

“At the time, it was really personal because I had twin granddaughters that were close to the same age. It just kind of sunk in and made it more real,” said Megason.

Such experiences prompted these officers to start the Ark-Tex Peer Support Organization. The group aims to provide support to all first responders to help them deal with stressful on-the-job situations. They say the peer group is a change in law enforcement culture.

“Usually, the mentality is to suck it up and get over it. You are weak when you ask for help. It was often not even asked for, the culture itself, people would not even reach out,” said Megason.

Megason says they’re looking for members of other public safety organizations to train as peer support officers. If interested, you can contact the Texarkana Arkansas Police Department.

“We are simply going to them saying, ‘If you need to talk to somebody, we are here to listen. If you need to talk to somebody, if you need someone to get advice, we are here to give you those resources you can get,’” Yonts said.

For now, the group’s focus is public safety workers in Miller County, Arkansas and Bowie County, Texas, but officials say other neighboring agencies are welcome.

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