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5 ways to help a depressed firefighter

FireRescue1 readers weigh in on how they approach depression and help colleagues through difficult times

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By FireRescue1 BrandFocus

Certain topics are taboo in the fire service. In the case of depression and suicide, that taboo can cause a great deal of harm as it exacerbates issues that pose major problems to firefighters. But what happens when someone in your department is going through a difficult time or had a particularly difficult call? We asked firefighters what they would do if they were in a position to help another firefighter.

Hold debriefings after difficult calls

An organized debriefing to deal with all of the stress that comes after a tough call can really make a difference for those involved. Nancy Gerner says that her department “had to be debriefed after a couple of nasty calls. The first one was kind of questioned, but after we went [through] it … it helped so much. When we needed it the second time, we jumped right in. Don’t be afraid to talk about things and get them off your mind. [It results] in a lot less burnout.”

Invest department resources in mental health

Perhaps the best advice, if not always the most practical, is for departments to invest in the professional resources needed to help tackle the issue. For example, Craig Stovall says that he’s “fortunate enough to have a team to help with issues that arise from the nature of our work.” However, he says, “it all starts with the individual, whether it be the person suffering or the person that notices. Knowing that is the first step to changing the culture.”

Talk it out

The simplest and most direct way to address the issue is to talk to someone when you see him or her going through a hard time. As David Lloyd-Taylor says, “Just reach out and help, as fast as you would for any physical threat.” John Liebfred said that when faced with a similar situation, he “went directly to them, and killed several cups of coffee … Never hesitate.”

If you’re going through a difficult time, it can help to reach out to someone. Dave Rogers said, “As both a firefighter and former military, you have to speak up and ask for help. People deal with stuff in different ways. Chances are that you are not alone.”

Lorie Darrh mentioned that when she went through a similar situation, it took a lot of courage to reach out and talk to another firefighter, but she was “relieved to know I wasn’t the only one out there. Talk to someone who understands. It really does help!”

Encourage them to seek out counseling

The mental strain of firefighting can accumulate over time. Not all post-traumatic stress is related to a single, memorable instance. Often it’s the years of being exposed to traumatic events that erode firefighter mental health. It makes sense to get help when you’re in need, and to encourage others to do the same. Of course, counseling can be expensive and not always covered by medical insurance plans. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t an option. Dave Rogers suggests that firefighters “check around. Some counselors will donate time.” Some may also work on a sliding scale and provide an affordable rate for firefighters.

Don’t wait

Perhaps the best advice is don’t wait. Don’t wait for the “right” opportunity to talk to a fellow firefighter who may be struggling with mental health problems. If you see something, do something about it. You might not have another chance. And don’t wait to seek help for yourself if you are feeling depressed or suicidal. The more firefighters who confront these issues, the faster the taboo will be lifted and suffering firefighters can get relief.

Have you ever been in a situation where you worried a fellow firefighter was depressed or possibly suicidal? What did you do? You can read more of what our readers had to say here and here.