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NFFF New Goals Discussion: Behavioral Health

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  • NFFF New Goals Discussion: Behavioral Health

    As we work with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation on their New Goals campaign, we wanted to get your feedback and experiences on a variety of topics.

    Today's article, written by Firehouse Editor-in-Chief Tim Sendelbach, focuses on tips to improve your mental health and well-being. Be sure to read Tim's article at: http://www.firehouse.com/article/12054695 and share your feedback on the two questions below:

    1. How can we overcome the stigma often associated with behavioral health?

    2. How can we build a peer support model in which family members, spouses and firefighters who are burn victims are all helping one another in our department?


  • #2
    The US military is dealing with this big time these days.

    I would opine that #1 goes back to the macho image of firefighters, both public or self-image. No one wants to admit that they can't handle the job and what it throws at us.

    We've had a Critical Incident debrief team in this area for years (almost completely volunteer here). It's been pretty standard after a major, stressful incident to do a debrief. While I've not attended one (I've managed to miss the calls they were held for), the feedback I've gotten from those who did attend was that they were beneficial - attendees discovered that they weren't the only ones who felt the way they did about the call.

    There's a lot to be said for the "kitchen table" debrief, too.

    Occasionally, the CISD team will do presentations at various events. When they do, they point out the signs of "hidden" stress. And this education is the key. It might help an individual to recognize the reasons for how they feel, and it might help other members of their team to spot telltale signs.

    I would opine that a key component does need to be a fair and impartial way for an individual who needs help to get it. The involves both having such an avenue available and personnel knowing that the avenue exists.

    Methinks the problem, if you will, can come when the stresses aren't from incidents, but from other factors in an individual's life. This may require a wider network of assistance (marriage counselling, financial counselling, etc), which may not be as easily available.

    The military's much pubilicized issues with PTSD may work to our advantage in terms of public stigma. Public understanding that there are stresses to the job can go a long way to public acceptance of folks seeking treatment for those stresses.

    And that's a lot better than having someone hold it in.

    And sometimes that's why we're our own worst enemy - we don't want to admit we need help.
    Opinions my own. Standard disclaimers apply.

    Everyone goes home. Safety begins with you.


    • #3
      It seems to me that burns cause a very small percentage of behavioral issues. When something like that happens, it seems that it's pretty well addressed. It's all the other stressors that cause the bulk of issues.


      • #4
        Lately I have seen a lot of articles relating to firefighter behavorial health. I think this is a start to break down the stigma. We need to understand that mental illness is stigmatized throughout society not just the fire service. It's just especially bad in public safety.

        The US Army has been working on reducing the stigma of asking for help. US Army Leadership realized that they needed to increased soldier resilience by reducing behavorial health problems. They developed the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program. The program provides training to soldiers and the families at all levels starting with basic training. National fire service organizations should be looking at this program as a basis for fire service program.

        We need respected firefighters to step up and talk about these issues. As someone who has dealt with mental illness in my own family, I can tell you that we are terrible at dealing with this. If we can get people to talk about these issues we can start to break down the stigma.
        Fire Captain


        • #5
          Originally posted by FHEditor View Post
          1. How can we overcome the stigma often associated with behavioral health?

          Group support such as CISD where all members are encouraged to attend even if they are feeling no ill effects from a call are a huge step. The benefit of everyone being there and showing support for each other can't be emphasized enough. The presence of the veterans and the rookies together discussing the incident builds acceptance for seeking help.

          The truth is the fire and ems services will never be able to accurately tally how many good, skilled, experienced members we have lost due to mental health issues caused by stress related issues directly related to emergency calls. We need, to some extent at least, to be able to suck it up and go on, but everyone has a breaking point. Some may never reach it and some may hit it early on. It may be a call with a child, or someone that reminds you of your parent, or you respond to a call for a friend or family member, or just a particularly gory call. The strange part is you never know what it will be until it happens. The "I can handle anything" macho BS is doing more harm than good in some cases. Step up, get the help you need, and come back to work.

          Supporting each other makes us strong and helping our Brothers and Sisters get the help they need is a crucial element of that.
          Crazy, but that's how it goes
          Millions of people living as foes
          Maybe it's not too late
          To learn how to love, and forget how to hate


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