Survival page fits that description especially as it applies to “just not talked about.”
their families access to counseling and psychological support.”The second is my own personal “close call” and lessons learned.
firefighters who have had “close calls” in their own lives, sought help and are very successful today.
in your organization or in your life? How was it successfully dealt with even if it was after the fact? By sharing can you provide hope to those firefighters struggling today that they are not alone and there are steps they can take to find safe haven? I believe the answer to that question is a resounding yes and I am willing to start the process.
My close call became feeling as though my career was over. As a leader my credibility was gone. I could not save my own son so how could I protect my own firefighters? What would they think of me and how could they follow me? That sense of loss of pride and identity sent me into a powerful depression. If it were not for the fact that the therapist who had dealt with my son also was the sister of a firefighter; I am not sure I would’ve reached out even in the pain I was in.
Her familiarity with the fire service culture opened the door. She forced me to face my demons of guilt and self doubt with an understanding that my profession and my own “heroic persona” was going to add to my difficulty to mentally begin the healing process. She hit me head on with putting my cape down and realizing not only was I not Superman, I also was not God and both those realities were okay!
Fire departments need to seek out mental health professionals who at least have a basic knowledge of what firefighters face on a daily basis. If the firefighter feels no connection with the therapist the likelihood of success is severely diminished. From the therapist viewpoint I would also imagine it is very
difficult to treat someone you do not understand.
Second lesson learned is you can impact how accepting the culture is in your department to deal with those battling mental health issues, whether it’s a fellow firefighter or family member. By not sharing with my department to a larger degree my struggles and that of my son I was sending the message that you do not talk about mental illness as if it was some dark secret and something to be ashamed of.
I am a big role model guy and here was an opportunity to model this progressive notion that mental health is just as important and real as the physical side. Instead of seizing that opportunity I shied away from it under the rationalization that I was “saving” everyone from that pain. I can tell you the reaction since my son’s death has reinforced the notion that many in our profession suffer similar mental health challenges either in their own family or on their fire service family.
If I had been more public about my son’s illness I could have nurtured the culture in a positive way, not only in my department but neighboring organizations, to be open to mental health issues. Now I am not proposing that everyone bears their most private issues at roll call each morning but what I am saying is that the concern for and maintenance of the mental health side of our profession is lagging way behind the physical side. We better wake up and understand that it is a worthy challenger to our firefighter‘s well being as well as our own. Just the increase in documented cases of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome should have our antennae up.