At Gear Wash, our main priority is keeping your department safe and healthy by keeping gear clean and ready for the next firefight. Throughout Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to emphasize that supporting those who serve us is valuable and needed.
The first way to break down the stigma of Post Traumatic Stress in the fire service is understanding what it looks like. Studies estimate that about 20 percent of firefighters will experience symptoms at some point during their career.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, here are a few common signs that station crew and families should watch for:
- Reliving the event. Memories of the traumatic event can come back at any time. You may feel the same fear and horror you did when the event took place. For example, you may have nightmares. Or you may feel like you are going through the event again; this is called a flashback. You may see, hear, or smell something that causes you to relive the event, called a trigger. News reports, seeing an accident, or hearing a car backfire are examples of triggers.
Avoiding situations that remind you of the event. You may try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic event. You may even avoid talking or thinking about the event.
Negative changes in beliefs and feelings. The way you think about yourself and others changes because of the trauma. This symptom has many aspects, including the fact that you may not have positive or loving feelings toward other people and may stay away from relationships. You may think the world is completely dangerous, and no one can be trusted.
Seeking help in times of need is the furthest thing from weakness. In a 2019 survey of patients from the IAFF Center of Excellence, 62% reported they felt the decision to seek treatment had positive impacts on how they are viewed in their departments. Encourage anyone in your department to reach out if they are struggling, no one should have to suffer alone.
If you need immediate support with a suicidal, mental health, and/or substance use crisis, call the NVFC First Responder Helpline or call 988 for the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (or go to the website for chat). In addition, SAMHSA’s National Helpline is available at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), and the Crisis Text Line is available by texting HOME to 741741.