How to Start Recovery

Author: IAFF Staff

July 6, 2018

Firefighting is an emotionally and physically taxing job. While some fire fighters find healthy ways to manage the unique stressors of their careers, others may have a harder time coping. Even the most vigilant can develop behavioral health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and addiction in the wake of tragedy and trauma.

If you or a fire fighter you know is dealing with a mental health or substance use disorder, you can get help. By recognizing the signs, offering support and locating professional resources, you, your friend or family member can find help and get back to work.

Recognize the Signs

It can be difficult to acknowledge your problems and admit when you need help. In many cases, a friend or family member may recognize a behavioral health problem before you can.

Addiction and psychological problems can impact nearly every aspect of your life. If you notice one or more of the following symptoms in yourself or a fire fighter you know, it could be an indication of a greater problem:

  • Increased irritability
  • Isolation
  • Mood swings
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Increased drug or alcohol use
  • Increased risky behavior (such as driving while impaired, having unprotected sex, gambling or spending money excessively)
  • Missed family or work obligations
  • Weight loss or weight gain

A more comprehensive look at some of the signs of a substance use or mental health disorder can be seen here.  

Fire fighter in uniform walking across a bridge at night

Be Supportive, Not Enabling

If you suspect a brother or sister is dealing with mental health issues or addiction, reaching out and talking to them could mean the difference between getting better or getting worse. Knowing that someone cares about their well-being and wants them to seek help can be a motivating force, often serving as the wake-up call they need.

It may take time to accept the reality of a mental health condition and the need for professional help, especially if daily functioning isn’t completely impaired. Allow your fellow fire fighter a respectful amount of space and time to consider seeking help. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s a fine line between supporting someone and enabling them, especially when it comes to addiction. If they refuse to get treatment, resist the urge to make excuses for them, which can perpetuate an unhealthy, dangerous lifestyle.

Locate Professional Resources

When you’re struggling with a behavioral health condition, sometimes it can be so overwhelming that you can’t find help for yourself. You may even feel hopeless to change your circumstances, and resign yourself to your pain. Fortunately, there are professional treatment options and resources available specifically for the needs of IAFF members.

The Firestrong Firefighter and Family Crisis Support Line (844-525-FIRE) is a 24-hour hotline that can connect you to a mental health clinician trained in fire service culture. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also has a 24-hour hotline available to answer questions about mental health and addiction. Both resources can help you locate local treatment centers or resources in your community.

If you or someone you know needs treatment, reach out to the IAFF Center of Excellence today for specialized care designed specifically for IAFF members.

The IAFF Center of Excellence is the only facility in the United States dually licensed to address both mental health and substance use disorders exclusively in IAFF members. If you or a fire fighter you know struggles with mental health or a substance use disorder, a call to the IAFF Center of Excellence could change everything. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Reach out to a representative today for more information.

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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