COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS – In May of 2022, the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) hired Alisa McDonald to serve as Wellness and Resiliency Program director. TEEX trains law enforcement personnel, firefighters, paramedics and search and rescue experts around the world, emphasizing physical safety, mental wellness and psychological safety for the duration of a first responder’s career and beyond.
McDonald, a licensed professional counselor with a master’s in counseling, specializes in victims’ services and first responder mental health. Before coming to TEEX, she worked for the Texas Department of Public Safety and has responded to assist with many of the state’s most critical events.
She explains that “daily exposure to trauma and critical incidents can cause long-term effects on the mental health of first responders, and peer support is critical for first responders’ mental health. Even after leaving these positions, many carry trauma with them. In delivering wellness and resiliency training to first responder agencies, early response is key.”
For the past year, McDonald has been creating a robust crisis response program at TEEX to address the mental health of employees and first responders. She developed an internal peer support team for TEEX employees, training them extensively to provide confidential support to others in the agency. Peer team members listen, provide support and refer to a higher level of care if needed. Eventually, this team could be available to deploy to large-scale disasters around the state or country.
After this, McDonald will focus on training and assisting peer support teams for first responder agencies nationwide. Her long-term goal is to open a mental health counseling center at TEEX for first responders. In addition to providing counseling, the center will serve as a training program where mental health professionals learn to treat first responder trauma. She says, “Not many programs train counselors to understand first responder trauma. At TEEX, we want to be able to provide and train culturally competent counselors who understand the unique trauma that first responders experience.”
These initiatives are critical, as mental health issues pose one of the greatest threats to first responders. Studies have shown that depression and PTSD are up to five times more common in first responders. Moreover, police officers and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.
If you or someone you know is struggling, please call or text The Lifeline at 988 or visit 988lifeline.org for 24/7 free and confidential support.
Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service
Vita Vaughn | Director of Marketing and Communications/CMO