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Documentary shows firefighter’s experience with ketamine-assisted therapy

“An Act Of Service” explores the impact of PTSD and the stigmas surrounding mental health in the fire service

Editor’s Note:
Suicide is always preventable. If you are having thoughts of suicide or feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline immediately at 988. Counselors are also available to chat at Remember: You deserve to be supported, and it is never too late to seek help. Speak with someone today.

By Bill Carey

NEW YORK CITY — A new documentary sheds new light on firefighter mental health.

Directed by Brandon Kapelow and produced by Voyager,An Act of Service” investigates the stigmas surrounding mental health in the conservative, masculine culture of the fire service. Highlighting the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the short film documents an emerging form of treatment: ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. The film, which was released on May 1, is listed in ‘Op-Docs,’ Oscar-winning documentaries from independent filmmakers featured by the New York Times.

Kapelow is a Wyoming-based visual storyteller, with a diverse background in directing, photography and cinematography. He serves as a peer-support group facilitator for those affected by suicide loss, according to his website.

Kapelow refers to traumatic events as “critical incidents,” a term well-known among emergency workers and researchers. On average, individuals may experience two to three critical incidents in their lifetime. Brandon’s first such incident happened at age 8 with his father’s initial suicide attempt. After five years and multiple attempts, his father passed away. This spurred Brandon to dedicate himself to exploring mental health issues and seeking solutions.

Research shows that emergency workers may face more than 180 critical incidents throughout their careers. During a documentary project, Kapelow observed their remarkable calmness in crisis and rapid transitions between work and home. He noted the severe psychological toll on them, as they suffer from higher rates of PTSD, substance abuse and suicide compared to the general population.

After over a decade in suicide prevention as a peer-support facilitator, Kapelow discovered increasing evidence for psychedelic-assisted therapies in treating behavioral health issues. Initially skeptical, he noted that major organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Department of Veterans Affairs have endorsed research into psychedelics, including ketamine. Recently, the V.A. also started funding studies on MDMA and psilocybin-assisted psychotherapies.

Kapelow hopes that sharing Rob’s story will contribute to a new paradigm in mental health care and shift the public conversation toward the experiences of individuals who could benefit from these therapies.

Watch the documentary here.

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