First responders attempt to commit suicide at more than 10 times the rate of the general population.[i] Chances are you know of some brothers and sisters who have faced this battle. You may have even faced it yourself. Contrary to what our culture preaches about mental toughness, asking for help during times of struggle does not mean that you are weak.
Call out: “Suicides among first responders, often driven by emotional strain in a culture that long has discouraged showing weakness, are too common, according to organizations that track the deaths.” –EMS1
There are numerous reports indicating that many first responders attempt suicide because they feel like they need to keep their thoughts to themselves. [ii] Post-traumatic stress disorder is a very real threat, and training rarely prepares responders for the mental exhaustion of their jobs.[iii] As the change in seasons only adds to the stress that many emergency service personnel feel, the winter is an important time to keep the mental health of your crew at top-of-mind.
There are certain steps you can take to educate yourself and others about signs of depression, offering emotional support and suicide prevention techniques. Here are four ways to stay proactive:
- Show support.
Dispel the notion that what happens in another firefighter’s life is “none of your business.” The pressure they face outside of the firehouse could impact their performance during work. Be there as a supportive presence. Just listening to them could alleviate some stress that may be causing mental anguish.
- Watch for warning signs.
Look for signs of stressors and the impact they cause. Is a team member going through a divorce? Are they struggling to pay bills? Have they started drinking more or abusing other substances? These could all be early warning signs of depression or suicide.
- Know who to contact.
Create protective environments where someone dealing with mental health issues won’t be shamed for reaching out for help. Encourage your crew to share their thoughts and seek professional behavioral health assistance if needed, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255.[iv]
- Find training.
The best way to prevent suicide attempts is to recognize the signs and know what to do in case of an emergency. Clinical psychologist Michelle Stevens wrote, “The first thing to know about suicide is that most people don’t want to die. In [a] depressed state, a person has trouble imagining that anything can ever get better. Suicide starts to seem like the only option.”[v] Eight out of ten people considering suicide give some sign of their intentions.[vi] Stay up-to-date on the best training practices at afsp.org and sprc.org.
Depression, PTSD and suicide are real concerns for first responders. Asking for the help you need is a sign of bravery, not weakness. Talk to your crew and educate them on ways to best take care of their mental health. Your encouragement to do so could save lives.