PTSD, like cancer, is quietly killing firefighters

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and other mental illnesses are not signs of weak or immoral firefighters; they are job-related illnesses that require treatment

One of the marks of good writing is the level of authenticity that comes through the piece. And Kelly Grayson's column is about as authentic as you can get.

If you missed it, Grayson courageously discusses his own battle with depression. It is difficult enough to admit your problems to yourself, let alone share them with hundreds of thousands of readers.

His piece is a reminder that — much like the carcinogens that are collecting in our bodies, slowly and quietly building cancerous cells — mental illness will eat away at us if left unchecked.

In fact, the parallels between firefighter cancer and mental illness are pretty eerie. There's the denial on our part of the threat from both and the difficulty making a direct link from firefighting to each.

The real challenge is finding a fix to the mental-health problem. The sooner we can do it, the better — but, it won't come easy.

As Grayson demonstrated, just admitting that it's normal to be abnormal is a huge hurdle for firefighters and medics alike. The stigma that mental illness is a weakness, a lack of character, or both needs to be buried. It simply isn't true.

After that, we can begin to help ourselves and those we serve with.

The other big hurdle will be convincing insurers and employers that these illnesses are a direct product of the job.

The Fraternal Order of Police is pushing to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder covered by workers' compensation. There have been some small successes with similar efforts, like in Connecticut.

But where there's money, there are problems. Pushback for treating mental illness as work-related centers on how will it be paid for and how bogus claims will be sifted out.

I'm a proponent of fiscal responsibility. But when lives are on the line, our leaders need to get them help first and fine-tune the process later.

There's a ticker on the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance homepage that tallies the number of firefighter suicides reported to that group. It is unsettling, especially when you consider how many go unreported.

Not all firefighters with mental health issues take their own lives. Some end up divorced, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or hiding their problems and retreating to dark and lonely places — as Kelly Grayson did.

We owe it to ourselves, our families, our fellow firefighters and even those we serve to acknowledge this issue and get help for those who need it.

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