October is National Depression Education and Awareness Month with October 2 being National Depression Screening Day. Why does this matter? A survey noted that 6.6% of over 4,000 first responders had attempted suicide, which is more than 10 times the general public. (https://www.firerescue1.com/fire-ems/articles/222673018-Increasing-suicide-rates-among-first-responders-spark-concern/). Many first responders don’t want to share their struggles because they don’t want to be seen as weak – whether by the community, their peers, or their superiors. There can also be consequences for the first responder like being taken off the front line (and the stigma that goes along with this), or not getting promoted. Just these two issues alone (the perception of being weak and potential consequences) can be enough to dissuade many first responders from getting help.
The problem starts in training. I have noticed a small increase in the number of first responder trainings that incorporate mental health awareness, the fact that you will have impacts from your job, and the importance of seeking help, but these numbers are still very low. And the stigma still remains. Even though more companies are starting to incorporate trainings on mental health awareness and protection, the number of people willing to seek help is still very low.
It is very important to realize that some of the calls you go on will stick with you forever. They are memories, just like every other memory you have. They will not just go away at the end of the day. Those memories that are very impactful (a death of a child in any way for example) can really stick with you, especially if you have children yourself. Memories that are impactful will continue to impact you. Then if you come across another scene which is similar, but this time doesn’t involve the death of a child, the brain will connect the two memories just because they are similar. This compounded traumatic memory network gets bigger with each similar call you go on. As the memory network grows, the impact on you grows. Maybe at first it doesn’t seem like a big deal – you are more protective of your kids and you think you are being a good parent for this (I am not arguing that, by the way). But then you start to worry over other things as well. You notice you are not sleeping as well because you are worried about the safety of your family at night. Due to decreased sleep, you notice you’ve become more irritable. From this increase in irritability, your children start to withdraw from you because you’re not yourself anymore. Your significant other starts mentioning this to you, but doesn’t know how to say it in a way that you accept. As you start to work out more, or do other things to escape, it just seems to get worse. But you deny it as a problem; “I’m just not sleeping well” – afterall, this all seemed to start with less sleep right? Actually it started before that causing the decrease in sleep. First responders are
“supposed” to be strong. They are not “supposed” to be impacted by their job like this. Emotions are the enemy of objectivity, safety, and survival. The problem is, your emotions are starting to take control.
Signs of depression include:
– Irritability all the way through anger
– Poor sleep
– Withdrawing from family and friends
– Increased adrenalin-pumping activities
– Increased alcohol use
– Apathy at work
– Increased sarcasm
– Racing thoughts (can’t stop thinking about something or several things)
– Behavioral changes in your children (regression to things they’ve outgrown or aggression)
– Changes in your marital life
– Increased time spent at work (after all if you can stay busy, you will stay out of your head)
– Suicidal thoughts, actions, planning
– Feeling hopeless or helpless
– Feeling anxious or restless
With October being National Depression Education and Awareness Month, I hope that you will find a way to bring awareness of depression, its effects, and the reality that first responders are humans and CAN develop depression and PTSD to your places of employment. I will be out there as well, promoting this and raising awareness. Suicides among first responders do not have to be so high. We need to work together to bring the stigma down and get the first responders the help they not only need, but deserve. You are out there protecting us, helping us. Let us help you (I know that is not an easy thing – many people in the helping field: nurses, therapists, first responders, etc don’t let others help them). Even so, I am passionate about helping you maintain your passion, your career, your life, and your family. Please reach out if you or someone you know is struggling. I can be reached at 860-501-9767 or 941-462-4807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally some good resources are:
– http://www.frsn.org/ (First Responder Support Network: they may be able to point you in a good direction in your state)
– https://www.buildingwarriors.net/ (Program created by a police officer with PTSD: They also may be able to point you in a good direction in your state)
– www.211.org (country-wide resource)