Speaking Out About Fire Fighter Suicides

Author: IAFF Center of Excellence Staff

August 14, 2019

The results of a national study show that between 2015 and 2017, fire fighters were more likely to die from suicide than in the line of duty. The factors that drive people to suicide are complex; however, exposure to trauma and the resulting mental disorders are known to increase suicide risk. While the causes of suicide are complicated, one thing is clear: This problem is not going away. The good news is that change can start with you. Opening conversations about mental health and suicide with fire fighters and paramedics could save a life. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, don’t wait to ask for help today.
  • Fire Fighter/Family Crisis and Support Line: Call 1-844-525-FIRE (3473) to access a 24/7 hotline for fire fighters and family members and to speak with mental health counselors who are trained in fire service culture (U.S. callers only).
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This 24/7 service is toll-free and confidential (U.S. callers only).
  • Crisis Service Canada: Call 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645. Québec callers only, call the Québec National Suicide Prevention line at 1-866-APPELLE.
Fire fighter working on a crane during fire

Don’t Assume Those Who Struggle Will Reach Out

A significant number of fire fighters who grapple with suicidal thoughts never talk about them. So much stigma surrounds the topic of suicide that people often have many concerns that prevent them from speaking out, including:
  • Nobody will understand or believe what they are experiencing or feeling
  • They are beyond help
  • They will be judged or seen as crazy
  • They are a burden to family, friends, and colleagues
  • They will lose their job if they speak out and get help
This is why it’s so important to make an effort to offer support. If your friend or family member is a fire fighter or paramedic, reach out and ask how they’re doing. Let them know you are genuinely concerned and there to listen. If you’re a fire fighter, don’t be afraid to check in with your crew members to see how they’re doing, especially after challenging calls. Even if they seem cool, calm and collected on the outside, they may be hiding their true feelings. Develop trust and understanding with your crew so you can support each other.

Asking the Question Could Save a Life

Some people worry that talking openly with a person about suicide increases the chance of that person taking their life. This is a common misconception. Research suggests that discussing suicide actually reduces suicidal ideation. When lives are on the line, it’s clear that the cost of silence is too high. If you believe a coworker is showing any warning signs of suicide, say something to them. Talking openly about suicide gives them a chance to share what they’re feeling. Start with a simple question, such as, “How have you been feeling lately?” Don’t be afraid to ask them directly, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Asking a direct question may feel uncomfortable for both of you, but it could also save a life. Instead of pushing them closer to the edge, seeing that you care can make them feel less alone. And if they do open up, you can offer comfort in the moment. Your support and understanding can provide the other person with an enormous sense of relief.

Open Up About Your Own Experiences

The emotional weight of suicidal thoughts is difficult enough to bare, but suicidal thoughts can also be extremely isolating. Many people who deal with suicidal ideation believe that they’re alone with their feelings. These individuals may think no one else around them has had similar thoughts. If you’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts yourself and now consider yourself in recovery, share your experience. When you open up, others may feel more comfortable talking about their own thoughts and feelings. You can also help others develop hope by demonstrating that even severe mental illness is treatable. A simple opening comment such as, “I had suicidal thoughts before, but I’m in a better place now. Have you ever felt that way?” You’re not alone with your suicidal thoughts. Many fire fighters and paramedics struggle with thoughts of taking their life. If you are currently experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 1-844-525-FIRE (3473) now. The good news is that with the right support, you can overcome this. You can live a better life. It all begins with a call. If you have lost a friend, family or crew member to suicide and are struggling for answers, see the IAFF Guide to Fire Fighter Suicide: How to Cope with Grief and Loss. Even if you are not currently suicidal, but know you need help, contact a representative at the IAFF Center of Excellence today.   Sources: Dazzi, T., Gribble, R., Wessely, S., Fear, N.T.  “Does asking about suicide and related behaviors induce suicidal ideation? What is the evidence?” Psychological medicine, 2014. Accessed April 28, 2019. RudermanFoundation.org. “Study: Police Officers and Firefighters Are More Likely to Die by Suicide than in Line of Duty.” April 2018. Accessed April 28, 2019. SuicidePreventionLifeline.org. “National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.” Accessed April 28, 2019.

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