"We’re called on to help everyone else—we aren’t the ones who should need the help." Or so the thinking of many first responders goes. But some emergency response personnel do need help, and many aren't getting it.
According to Janet Wilmoth, author of the recent NFPA Journal article "Trouble in Mind," suicides among U.S. first responders have focused increased attention on behavioral health problems, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), affecting primarily firefighters and emergency medical service (EMS) personnel. While data on the problem is scarce, she says, there are suggestions that such problems among emergency responders may be widespread. And adding to the problem is a lingering stigma that can make it difficult for emergency responders to acknowledge behavioral issues such as depression, either their own or that of a colleague.
Faced with the growing awareness of the problem, a number of organizations are making efforts to provide emergency responders with tools to fight it. For example, the International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs will issue new, broader recommendations on behavioral health this summer, including suicide prevention and awareness, part of the Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative launched in 1996.
For more on this subject and the efforts being made to combat it, read Wilmoth's article in the May/June issue of NFPA Journal.