October 13, 2019
If you are a union or department officer, it is critical that you are aware of the signs that may indicate a member is experiencing a behavioral health problem or crisis. In a position of leadership or authority, it can be more difficult to detect how your members are doing on an individual or emotional level.
Concerns about mental health stigma, promotions or rank may often prevent a fire fighter from speaking honestly with a supervisor.
Therefore, as an officer, it’s important to pay attention to observable behavioral and physical changes in your members, including:
If you have a member showing the signs listed above, it is your responsibility as a company officer to intervene.
The member may just need to talk or need a couple of days off to deal with a family matter. On the other hand, the member may be struggling with a serious mental health or substance abuse problem that needs professional intervention. You don’t know until you ask.
Your relationship with the member may dictate how you choose to intervene. Some options include:
Individuals typically seek residential treatment when issues have not been resolved at a lower level of outpatient care. In some cases, however, residential treatment is clinically indicated when there is no prior treatment history. When a member’s work, family, home or social life is severely impaired by symptoms or behavior, residential treatment may be a good choice. Residential treatment can also provide an added layer of anonymity that is difficult to achieve at a local treatment facility.
The IAFF Center of Excellence is a one-of-a-kind residential behavioral health treatment facility designed by IAFF members for IAFF members. In a survey of IAFF members treated at the Center of Excellence, 68% reported they would not or probably would not have sought treatment if the setting was not exclusively for fire fighters (IAFF Center of Excellence Discharge Survey, 2019).
With accommodations in one of four station houses, patients share an instant bond forged on the mutual understanding of life in the fire service.
While symptoms of a behavioral health problem are not always obvious, suicide warning signs are clear behavioral, emotional or interpersonal cues that a member is at immediate risk of attempting suicide. These include:
If a member is displaying any of the signs above, he or she should be escorted to a licensed mental health provider, an emergency room or accompanied during a call to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Once your IAFF member is in a safe place, an admission to the Center of Excellence can be swiftly coordinated.
Call the IAFF Center of Excellence today to learn more about comprehensive treatment options.
Lauren Kosc, M.A., LCPC is a behavioral health specialist, clinician and staff writer for the International Association of Fire Fighters. If you are an IAFF member in recovery and want to share your story, contact [email protected].
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.