Saying Goodbye to Shame

Author: IAFF Center of Excellence Staff

February 19, 2020

According to the Journal of Occupational Health, approximately 20 percent of fire fighters and paramedics will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in their career.  Unfortunately for some, shame is a key component of the emotional and cognitive experience of this condition. This feeling of shame may be one of the biggest reasons fire fighters don’t seek treatment for behavioral health problems.

To learn more about the connection between shame, guilt and trauma, see our previous blog, The Price of Living: Survivor’s Guilt in Fire Fighters.

Regardless of whether you’ve witnessed something traumatic — believing you are a bad person or deserve to suffer indicates an abnormal traumatic reaction, which requires some professional attention. Consider the following:

  1. You are not alone. Millions of people live with behavioral health disorders, including many successful and high-functioning people. In fact, it’s estimated that one in four people will experience behavioral health problems sometime during their life.
  2. Behavioral health disorders, including PTSD, often have a neurobiological component. Remember, mental health is just one piece of your physical health.
  3. Everyone is complex and different. Therefore, don’t expect to react to a potentially traumatic event the same way as someone else.
  4. There’s no immunity to behavioral health disorders, such as PTSD or substance use disorder. The conditions do not discriminate based on age, sex, financial status or any other life situation.
  5. A diagnosis from a mental health professional is not a life sentence or statement about your character. It is simply a term used among medical providers to develop a common language when referring to a specific set of symptoms. A diagnosis doesn’t define or limit who you are as a person.

The negative stigma surrounding PTSD and other behavioral health disorders is being reduced by awareness programs, trainings, and workshops. Fortunately, more fire fighters are recognizing and acknowledging that it is okay to ask for help.

Fire fighter on the scene pointing at himself as he is about to put out a fire

If you or someone you know struggles with a behavioral health or substance use disorder, recovery is possible. At the IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery, our staff understands how to meet your specific needs. Call to speak to a representative about treatment options. We’re here 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The call is free, confidential and there is no obligation.  


International Association of Fire Fighters. “PTSD and Cancer: Growing Number of Fire Fighters and Paramedics at Risk.” August 2016. Accessed January 7, 2020.

World Health Organization. “Mental Health Disorders Affect One in Four People.” October 4, 2019. Accessed January 7, 2020.

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