While wrapping up the month of May also known as Mental Health Awareness month, I wanted to write a little about the topic and possibly spread some light on how important it is for all members of all ranks to take the responsibility of looking out for our brothers and sisters on the daily basis. As I am sure you are all aware, Firefighters and First Responders are very susceptible to mental illness and we already have a high rate of suicide. Since the Pandemic it seems that this statistic has increased. I believe that with all the restrictions and changes in our lives all of us experienced a little stress and depression from what they termed the “new norm”. Now when you look at the life of a first responder, things increase even further with the extreme stress we have had to deal with serving the community. From the increase in PPE on all calls and workload, constant risk of becoming ill and not being available to take care of your family, being sent home to quarantine and not bringing home the income you need, or the difficulty of homeschooling and keeping your kids on track during this difficult time. We have had it rough, and I’ve experienced it firsthand. The stress is palpable and with any extra stressful event like death in the family or divorce, it would be enough to send someone into crisis.
I think we all suffer to an extent of some mental hardship and as family in the service we are pretty good knowing about each others lives, I mean heck we spend a routine large portion of our lives together it’s only natural. However, we are constantly searching for or expecting the help to come from the top but who is better to evaluate one’s mental health than the person living with them for 24 hours or more. While I think the department should include mental health as part of an annual physical evaluation and possibly go further and make it mandatory everyone is evaluated regularly for mental fitness. I do also believe that as peers, being so close in each other’s lives, we should be monitoring each other and making ourselves available to maintain the sanity. If we notice something more serious or maybe it’s beyond our ability to help, we should move it along to a more traditional and professional response but just assuming we are all ok until something bad happens is just not acceptable. We need a more proactive approach that doesn’t just extend to those on duty, we need to also focus on our members that are retired. Everyone takes the experiences from the job differently; some feel it quickly some have it later in life and PTSD from the job is a very real thing after putting in years of duty and seeing the things we see we need to make sure we process the experiences correctly and maintain a good mental fitness. Losing members is not an option, we need to be there for each other and help each other through the difficult times and recognition is so important in order to get the help we need to get through the difficult times that we are almost guaranteed to experience at some point in our careers. Start change from within and let’s continue to battle this problem from all angles and ensure we make it to a happy ending enjoying the fruits of our labor with family and friends.