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January 22, 2018
Substance use and mental health problems are difficult for anyone to deal with, but they can be especially tough as an IAFF member. Because you spend your days rescuing others, you may feel as if the world expects you to always be tough. To let your trauma roll off your shoulders, deal with your problems alone, and keep your inner battles quiet. You might think no one else is dealing with this, or that these problems are all in your head.
It can be easy to believe that you’re the only one struggling with addiction or grappling with a behavioral health issue like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You may feel alone, but the truth is you’re not. Even if you’ve never heard anyone in your station talk about these problems, it’s likely that many of your crew members share your struggles. Maybe they’ve had just as many nightmares. Perhaps they also spend their evenings self-medicating with alcohol or prescription drugs to forget the stress of saving lives. The truth of the matter is, countless IAFF members in your community and across the country have been in your boots.
A study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that nearly 20 percent of fire fighters develop PTSD at some point in their lives. This is significantly higher than rates of PTSD in the general population, which average about 3.5 percent. According to the National Fire Protection Association’s 2016 annual fatalities report, nearly three times as many fire fighters died from suicide than in the line of duty.
This isn’t a coincidence — it’s proof that the stress of being a fire fighter or paramedic can overwhelm a person’s ability to cope. Without the right support in place, the pressure you may feel to stay silent and bury your problems deep down can have deadly consequences. Realizing you’re not the only one going through this isn’t just comforting — it can be life-saving.
At the IAFF Center of Excellence, licensed physicians and clinicians help IAFF members work through trauma, anxiety, depression, PTSD and addiction. They can help you, too. The staff at the Center understand what you’re going through. With their experience and clinical know-how, they can make it easier for you to process your trauma and sort out what you’ve experienced.
But professional treatment is only one integral part of care at the IAFF Center of Excellence. There, you’ll be surrounded by other fire fighters and paramedics who share your struggle. You’ll spend your days with these men and women, reflecting, working and healing by their sides. While sharing in their triumphs and setbacks, the reality that you’re not alone, you’re not crazy and you CAN heal will slowly sink in. That realization alone can be life-changing.
When you’re ready to take the first step toward a better life, the IAFF Center of Excellence is here to help. Each call to the Center is completely free and confidential. Reach out to a representative today to learn more.