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Suicide in the Fire and Emergency Services; Adopting a Proactive Approach to Behavioral Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention

February 7, 2013 Comments off

Suicide in the Fire and Emergency Services; Adopting a Proactive Approach to Behavioral Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention (PDF)

Source: National Volunteer Fire Council

The heroism America witnessed on September 11, 2001, caused many to reflect on the first responders in their communities that selflessly give their energy, and sometimes their lives, to help and protect on a daily basis. Although most calls for service are not of such mass destruction, the fact is that firefighters routinely risk their lives to help others. The role of modern-day firefighters has changed dramatically over the years. Once organized mainly around fire suppression activities, calls now include a variety of crises such as mental health incidents, family abuse, shootings, traffic accidents, and more.

Experiencing a traumatic event can be overwhelming for anyone. Stress reactions activate both physical and mental defense systems. Some of these reactions are temporary while others are long lasting. The impacts of work-related stressors manifest differently in each firefighter, producing different psychological responses. For a firefighter, prolonged or repeated exposure to such events can be debilitating and increase the risk of behavioral health issues and/ or suicide.

Firefighters are faced with emotional needs that are very unique, and many are struggling from work-related stress. When symptoms occur, a firefighter needs a support system in place that is readily accessible from someone who is qualified and truly understands his or her circumstances.

Behavioral health is a very broad term used to describe actions of human beings during situations as related to the mind and body. In this report, behavioral health will be used to understand or define the actions of firefighters and emergency personnel as related to depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, addictions, suicidal ideations, and other human behaviors.

This report looks at the impact of ignoring mental health within the fire service, the challenges of breaking the stigma associated with mental health issues, firefighter suicide prevention awareness, the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the importance of addressing the psychological health risks facing firefighters that can have damaging effects on their personal relationships. It is designed to be a viable resource for emergency responders as well as a resource for concerned family, friends, and peers seeking to understand and support those struggling with behavioral health challenges. The report also includes data analysis from a survey distributed online by the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC). The survey measured behavioral health issues facing firefighters and emergency responders, and the data collected was analyzed by HOPE Health Research Institute. Detailed analysis can be found in the Appendix.

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