LOS ANGELES - During the month of May, the Fire Service will be participating in a nationwide Stand Down for Suicide Prevention. This is an excellent opportunity to have honest and real conversations about life stressors that can take our service members to the brink of suicide, or the factors that lead to it. To do this we need to first discuss the issues that get in the way of appropriately talking about and coping with distress.
Stigma is one of the contributing factors that stops firefighters from seeking help. Stigma is considered a mark of disgrace that prevents people from doing things or speaking out in a manner that allows them to improve. Like most emergency responders, firefighters are expected to be calm, level-headed and able to face challenging situations with courage. Firefighters have long been expected to contain their emotions and approach their jobs with logic and reason, with the understanding that only those who have the ability to successfully manage the stress and emotional aspects of the job would be successful. Some firefighters may also believe that they are not vulnerable to mental health issues due to their strict training dealing with challenging situations.
Another factor that prevents people from speaking out is a combination of avoidance and difficulty dealing with difficult negative emotions. Members find it difficult to actively talk about problems with work, problems with spouse, problems with children, or deeper emotional wounds with family history and untreated trauma from the job. It is much easier to push these haunting thoughts and feelings deep down and fill the space with work or substance abuse.
It is not easy to directly confront life threatening events, moments where you were let down in your most vulnerable state, on the job stress and trauma, or admit that things are not ok, but the freedom and inner peace that comes with it is lifesaving. We know the dark statistics about firefighter suicide. While prevention is harder to measure, the efforts are well worth it.
Changing the fire station environment and establishing one that is supportive and understanding, where everyone is aware of the warning signs within themselves and each other, will go a long way toward removing the stigma of mental health issues and reducing the number of firefighters lost to suicide, the rates of substance abuse, and other mental health problems.
We encourage all to participate in this month’s Suicide Prevention Stand Down and take a hopeful stance of wellness and mental health. Let’s all work together to destroy the myths that fuel stigma and silence. See below for links to resources that are just a click or phone call away and ready to help.
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Additional Videos and Resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)