How to Help an IAFF Member Struggling with PTSD or Addiction

Author: IAFF Center of Excellence Staff

October 24, 2017

Fire fighters and paramedics are some of strongest, most dedicated people around. Whether you have a friend, family member, loved one or colleague who is an IAFF member, you know how resilient, passionate and hardworking these men and women are. But you may also know how challenging their job can be and may witness firsthand how these struggles can culminate and manifest in the form of behavioral health disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or substance abuse.

Recognizing and accepting that someone you know needs help is the first step toward helping them heal. Asking for help doesn’t make anyone weak — it strengthens them and can secure their job and save their life. If you know a fire fighter or paramedics dealing with addiction, PTSD or similar challenges, there are simple steps you can take to ensure they get the care they need and deserve without consequences at work. The IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery offers comprehensive care designed exclusively for IAFF members. By calling about a friend or loved one, you can guide them to get the treatment they need, before the issue escalates to a point where their job — or life — could be in jeopardy.

Here’s how you can help:  

Know the Signs

Sometimes it’s easier for a friend, family member, or co-worker to recognize personality changes or risky behavior than the person struggling themselves. If an IAFF member is experiencing difficulty performing their job or maintaining healthy relationships at home, it may be time to step in and help, even if you do so anonymously. Call the IAFF Center of Excellence on behalf of someone else if you notice:

  • Mood swings
  • Increased irritability
  • Isolation
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Missed work or family events
  • Defensiveness
  • Extreme weight loss or weight gain
  • Compulsive substance use and cravings (including alcohol)
  • Placing blame or deferring responsibilities

Reach Out for Help

Once you realize that someone you know may be suffering from PTSD, substance use disorder or other challenges, you can reach out directly to them, or contact resources in place on their behalf. If you choose to address the person directly, it’s important to understand their needs, which may include time and space. But it’s equally important to ensure that you are not enabling their behavior, whether it be by providing excuses for abusing alcohol or looking past the psychological effects of PTSD. If the IAFF member is ready to reach out for help on their own, you can act as their support system through admission and treatment.

It may be difficult to directly address PTSD or addiction with some IAFF members. Maybe you’re a colleague who doesn’t want to rock the boat at work, or perhaps your spouse is struggling silently. You can call the IAFF Center of Excellence anonymously and provide contact information so that a representative can get in touch with the member in need. When you call:

  • There is no obligation to seek treatment for yourself or a loved one
  • Your conversation is always confidential
  • The information you share will not be given to supervisors, co-workers or a local IAFF president

Save a Career and a Life

Too often, the consequence of untreated PTSD or addiction is job loss or even death. There are policies in place for those in need, created with fire fighters and paramedics in mind. By actively seeking treatment to overcome PTSD or addiction, IAFF members are doing their part to carry on and perform at their strongest.

The best way to help someone in need is to ensure that they take advantage of the resources available to them. Fire fighters and first responders have the benefit of personalized treatment and therapy at the IAFF Center of Excellence. The very first step on the journey toward healing is a phone call.

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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