Battling more than emergencies, first responders can fight depression

A recent study shows that more firefighters are dying by suicide than they are in the line of duty.

It also shows that first responders are affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at a rate five times higher than the average civilian.

It’s well-known that the jobs of firefighters and first responders are physically demanding, but it’s also mentally and emotionally taxing.

They respond to the needs of other people, but they have needs too.

That’s why more and more efforts are being made to provide resources and support for those who need it.

“There’s this whole stigma that firefighters, they don’t show emotion, they keep it all bottled up,” firefighter Devin Walter, said.

He said that it’s an effort made by all first responders to try to prepare themselves for potential trauma when responding to a call.

But no scene is ever the same, and everyone responds to distress differently.

“Well what’s happening is they keep it all bottled up and they tend to harm themselves instead of asking for help,” Walter added.

First responders witness worst-case scenarios on a regular basis.

“Infant loss is really tough,” he said. “Especially if you have a family like a lot of firefighters do, like I do. It’s just something that sticks with you. If you don’t talk about it, you keep thinking about it, keep thinking about it.

Fire inspector and volunteer firefighter, Stuart Hammer, said, “Depression really sets in when you don’t have that outlet.”

Walter added, “And really, it can just eat at you until you can’t handle it anymore.”

He said the mental preparation before a call is just as important as de-stressing after it.

After responding, the fire department holds after-action reviews to check in on the emotional toll the job tends to take.

Part of the job is providing peer support, access to professional resources, and  conversation is key.

“That’s the biggest thing, you know, is realizing that it’s okay to not be okay,” said Hammer.

That’s where national organizations, like the non-profit Next Rung, can come in.
Its mission is to end firefighter and first responder suicide through peer support OR by making – and paying – for individualized arrangements for professional help.

“The last thing we want is for firefighters, or first repsonders in general, to deny or refuse to seek the help that they need because it’s a hassle or it’s a process and it’s just difficult,” Next Rung’s co-director, Charlie Brown, a firefighter and paramedic in California, said.

Next Rung’s coordinators and board of directors are scattered across the country, and they have online, over the phone, and text resources available to people where ever they may be, for both volunteer and paid first responders.

Devin Walter also mentioned Share the Load – an organization that shares the same mission as Next Rung, among other things.

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