October 26, 2017
An estimated 23 percent of American fire fighters experience a behavioral health problem in any given year, yet roughly half never seek treatment. But why? These widely believed myths are preventing our brothers and sisters in the fire service from getting the help they need:
Fact: Would you see a doctor for diabetes or kidney disease? Of course. Unfortunately, people often view behavioral health problems as somehow less important, or as a character flaw. Thanks to advances in research and brain scanning, it is now known that individuals who develop mental health and substance use disorders have different biochemical processes and nervous system functioning. Bottom line: Behavioral health has little to do with morality or machismo and everything to do with how the body and the brain respond to stress.
Fact: If you’re struggling with even moderate symptoms of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it’s likely your crew has already sensed something’s off with you. You may be isolated or irritable in the firehouse, while unaware of the impairment your brothers and sisters can sense. In a recent longitudinal survey of fire fighters across the United States and Canada, the majority of respondents said they would NOT think less of a fire fighter who sought behavioral health treatment. Seeking help is an act of courage and a commitment to operating at your very best. The safety of your entire crew depends on it.
Fact: Without your written permission, it is against federal law for a behavioral health provider to share your information with anyone, including your family, fire department or referring healthcare provider. The decision to involve others in your treatment only happens if and when you choose. However, even though treatment is confidential, you may fear uncomfortable conversations or how to explain your absence at the firehouse upon your return. Treatment providers can often help coach an individual to diffuse questions from well-intentioned colleagues, without compromising your privacy or integrity.
Fact: While it’s true that behavioral health treatment is not free and may require time off from work, taking care of your health is a necessary investment in your health, career and family. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. When compared to costs of lost income, broken marriages, biomedical complications of mental illness and reduced quality of life, you can’t really afford not to seek help. Many treatment centers accept insurance and work with your insurance company to maximize your benefits.
Fact: Due to advancements in the behavioral healthcare field, treatment providers are increasingly held to stricter standards of accountability and reimbursed only for evidence-based treatment methods. Evidence-based means a particular treatment is found to be safe and effective in treating a specific problem or set of symptoms, according to research and scientific inquiry. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment, therapy options like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and prolonged exposure therapy are just some of the methods available to heal mental health issues.
Don’t let the myths surrounding behavioral healthcare stand in your way of healing. Call the IAFF Center of Excellence today to determine which level of care fits your needs. It’s free, confidential and there’s no pressure to commit to treatment.