July 11, 2018
Service men and women are often looked up to as courageous members of their communities. But this expectation can contribute to the stigma that prevents fire fighters from acknowledging a mental illness problem or seeking help for fear it will make them appear weak or damage their reputation.
As a fire fighter or paramedic, you risk your life for complete strangers. You must remain calm and focused, even while treating the seriously injured by suppressing human emotional reactions to what you’re doing.
Once an incident is over, the experience can begin to settle into your mind. You may try to brush it off, saying, “It’s just another day, another call.” Or you may become so affected that it changes your life drastically. You may be able to sleep through the night without reliving the incident. Furthermore, you may be treated differently by your peers for seeking help, making coping with post-traumatic stress that much more difficult.
Despite your professional training, you can’t be expected to just be able to brush off the horrible images you see and continue to live your life. Mental health requires support from loved ones, family, the community, and most importantly, fellow co-workers.
Those in other professions rarely experience the traumatic incidents that fire fighters experience. But as a fire fighter, you may be held to a higher standard of mental resilience.
Great strides have been made to increase awareness and reduce the stigma of behavioral health problems. Fire fighters are finally able to admit that there are real behavioral health issues that result from the job — as well as life stressors like finances and relationships, that we all experience as humans.
In-service training, education and open conversations about behavioral health problems are needed to increase awareness, challenge stigma and help fire fighters find the courage to ask for help.
Many fire fighters think it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help, but being a fire fighter is a tough job — both mentally and physically — and you need to know it’s okay to talk about your struggles. Remember, there is no shame in seeking treatment for PTSD. You don’t have to battle PTSD alone. Call the IAFF Center of Excellence to learn more about treatment options and support. Telephones are staffed around the clock with professionals who understand and can help.