How to Help an IAFF Member Who’s Struggling

Author: IAFF Staff

April 30, 2018

If you know a fire fighter or paramedic, you know that the men and women in the fire service are some of the most resilient and selfless people you’ll ever meet. But if you’re close to them, you probably also know how hard their work can be. The long hours may wear away at their physical health, while traumatic events witnessed on the job can weigh on their psyche. You may have noticed subtle changes in their behavior since they’ve been on the job, or even the first signs of a substance abuse or mental ohealth disorder.

Fire fighter father out of uniform carrying his son on his back

If you suspect that a fire fighter or paramedic you care about is struggling with addiction or battling anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) there are a variety of ways to help. The following are some simple steps you can take to start a conversation and connect them to the treatment they need:

Get Educated

You can’t help your loved one overcome a mental health struggle or substance use disorder if you don’t know anything about their condition. Learn all that you can about how these issues manifest and the different treatment methods available.  

Some of the most common signs to watch for include:

  • Mood swings
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Increased irritability
  • Extreme weight loss or weight gain
  • Excessive substance use
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Impulsive or self-destructive behavior
  • Extreme changes in personality or beliefs

Many people hesitate to seek treatment or talk to others about their struggles because they’re afraid their problems will be minimized, misunderstood or dismissed altogether. If you take time to understand what your friend or family member is going through, you can enter into tough conversations with an open mind and an understanding heart.

Let Them Know You’re There

If your friend or family member is struggling, they probably feel alone and isolated. Knowing that someone who’s close to them cares and is willing to listen can help your loved one open up. This discussion doesn’t have to be part of an intervention, and it shouldn’t take an accusatory tone.

Once the two of you are in a calm, quiet setting where you won’t be interrupted, let them know that you care about them and want what’s best for them. Ask open-ended questions, such as “How are you doing?” and don’t be afraid to let them know you’ve noticed the changes in their behavior. Be prepared to listen, but also to accept that they may not want to talk at first. Simply letting them know that you care could be enough for them to know they can trust you.

Reach Out to a Professional

There’s only so much you can do as the friend or family member of someone dealing with behavioral health issues. While your support is invaluable, professional care is usually needed to make lasting, meaningful improvements. Contacting therapists, physicians, addiction specialists or full-service centers — including The IAFF Center of Excellence — can give you advice about the best course of action for your loved one. If the IAFF member is ready, a representative can connect them to the care they need. If they’re not ready to seek treatment, these professionals can advise you on the best way to proceed.

In the end, it’s crucial to remember that it’s not your responsibility to fix someone struggling with addiction or mental illness. You can’t force anyone to take action and get treatment, and recovery can’t begin until the person is ready and willing to take care of themselves and get the help they need. But you can take steps to be a shoulder for them to lean on and help connect them to the resources they need to get help.

The IAFF Center of Excellence is a full-service mental health and substance use disorder facility designed specifically for IAFF members. With evidence-based therapies, healing amenities and reflective activities, fire fighters and paramedics can heal alongside fellow IAFF members. Call today to speak to an intake specialist about treatment options for a friend, family member or co-worker.

Medical Disclaimer: The IAFF Center of Excellence aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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