The First (and Hardest) Step to Getting Help

Author: IAFF Staff

January 25, 2018

Being a fire fighter or paramedic means putting others first, whether it’s a fire, a car accident or any other emergency. When events like these occur, people call 911 to ask for your help. But what if you’re the one who needs help? What if you’re in a personal crisis that a 911 call can’t resolve? Perhaps it’s substance abuse or a mental health disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or maybe it’s both. When you’re used to being the one responding to calls for help, it can be difficult to reverse roles and be in the position where you need to make a call.

For many IAFF members struggling with a mental health or substance use disorder, the first (and hardest) step to getting help is admitting you need it. If you’re currently battling a mental illness or addiction, perhaps the reason for your struggle stems from fear of what will happen after taking that first step.

Three of the most common fears are:

  1. Fear of Others’ Perceptions: Fire fighters/paramedics are often praised and honored for their courage and selflessness, leaving many thinking that they must uphold this image of strength. As a result, you may be hesitant to admit you have a problem and need help because you’re afraid of being perceived as weak. Maybe you’re concerned about how your fellow fire fighters will view you if they find out. But the people who truly matter will be the ones who applaud your decision to get help. With that in mind, the only fear that should motivate you is the fear of what could happen if you don’t seek help.
  2. Fear of Failure: You might go to work thinking that failure is not an option. This can certainly be a beneficial and motivating thought, but that doesn’t mean that you need to fear failure. Perhaps you’ve typed out the number for a rehab facility on your cell phone many times, but haven’t been able to press the call button. Maybe you’ve been hesitating because of all the “what if” questions gnawing at you. What if I go through treatment, but it doesn’t work? What if it makes things worse? What if, what if, what if. “What if” distracts from “what is,” and the latter is the only thing that matters. The experienced professionals at the Center can help you with your struggles. Hundreds of IAFF members are now in recovery after graduating from treatment at the Center of Excellence.
  3. Fear of the Treatment Process: If you’ve never been treated for a substance use or mental health disorder, you may have many questions about what to expect — fears of the unknown. What kinds of questions will I be asked? What will detox be like? What are my options for treatment? Can I talk to others who have been in my shoes before, during and after treatment? When you call the IAFF Center of Excellence, we will answer all your questions and help allay your fears. The Center and hotline are staffed with professionals who understand your struggles as a fire fighter or paramedic.

Regardless of what fears surface, they don’t have to take root in your mind. Don’t let these fears deter you from getting help. It’s okay to be apprehensive, but just know that you won’t be alone in your journey. Many of your brothers and sisters have already taken the difficult first step of admitting they need help and seeking it. It may not be easy, but it is possible. Call the IAFF Center of Excellence and speak with someone who can address your questions and ease your fears. Take that first step today.

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