SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – With his broad shoulders and tall stature, all it takes is one look and you could probably guess Mike Stevens is a firefighter.
He’s been with the Salt Lake City Fire Department for more than 20 years.
“Toughest job you’ll ever love,” he said with a big smile. “I knew young in life that I was put on this earth, seriously, to help people.”
Any firefighter will tell you it’s rewarding to help someone.
But sometimes, no matter what you do or how hard you try, you can’t help.
For Stevens, all those deaths started giving him nightmares.
“It had a cumulative effect,” he said. “It had a stack effect, I would get one, and then in a couple of weeks, I would get another, and then I didn’t realize the stack was getting taller and taller.”
Then, one day after another tough call, he went home and was done.
“I felt like I couldn’t do anything right,” said Stevens while looking down at the ground. “So I’m sitting there, staring down the barrel of my handgun and I’m weighing the pros and cons.”
He sat there on the edge of his bed for a long time, but instead of pulling the trigger, he decided to ask for help.
Doing that was maybe even tougher than pulling the trigger because of the stigma attached to first responders asking for help.
“Back in the day it was a sign of weakness and it followed you around for your entire career,” said Stevens.
Speaking with a therapist about the pressures and mental anguish of the job, he eventually started coming around.
“For firefighters and police and military, it’s so important to be able, if you got that stuff inside, it has got to find its way out,” he said.
Now, he often speaks to his colleagues and groups about mental health, suicide awareness and his personal story.
“You know what, I’m not afraid to talk about this,” said Stevens.
It’s proof that if it’s OK for a big, macho guy like him to ask for help, then anyone can.
“There’s people around me that are maybe having those same feelings. Having that same thing,” he said. “And if I start talking about it and say, hey, it’s OK. If one person listens, then that’s great.”