Friday, March 22, 2024

Firefighters' Mental Health Risks


Amongst first responders, firefighters are one of the most vulnerable groups and have a high risk of experiencing negative mental health impacts throughout their career. The unpredictable and intense nature of their job can cause significant stressors both on and off-duty. Their schedules often involve long shifts, followed by a limited amount of time off, causing disruption to their sleep patterns. This can lead to sleep disturbances, which is another occupational hazard.

Additionally, being away from family or working opposite shifts from a spouse can add to the existing stressors for firefighters. Missing important family moments like milestones or events can take a heavy toll on their mental well-being.

Despite choosing this profession out of a passion for helping others and saving lives, constantly being exposed to death, injury, and suffering can come at a cost. The cumulative stressors of physical strain, long hours, work-related sleep issues, and difficulty balancing work and home life can lead to symptoms like anxiety, irritability, nervousness, and problems with memory and concentration. Over time, this chronic stress can contribute to the development of anxiety and depression, with lasting effects on the brain. In fact, a 2014 report from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation found that a fire department is three times more likely to experience a suicide in a given year than a line-of-duty death.

Among women in the US, the occupations with the highest suicide rates are Law enforcement officers and firefighters, with a rate of 14.1 per 100 000. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC. Mental stress of the job can lead to substance abuse and alcohol abuse as a way of coping with the stress.

Where there’s a trauma or tragedy, firefighters are often the first on the scene. Firefighters are exposed to potentially traumatic situations by the nature of their work. On any given day, they may encounter house fires, car accidents, terrorist attacks, and other emergency situations. Repeated Exposure Trauma, the severity of the incidents that firefighters are involved in, and the emotional skills needed to cope with Cumulative Trauma can lead to Compassion Fatigue, Secondary Traumatic Stress, Vicarious Trauma, Burnout, and PTSD. Cumulative trauma refers to the psychological, emotional, and physical distress associated with repeated exposure to traumatic events, either directly or indirectly. Every individual's experience and risk of developing PTSD is unique; some may go through years of service before displaying symptoms while others may develop them after just one incident.

Unfortunately, firefighters, like other first responders we’ve discussed, are often the last to admit they need help, as it goes against their role as providers of support rather than recipients. Seeking help is often stigmatized or seen as a weakness in this community, where toughness is essential. However, it is crucial for first responders to know how and where to find the help they need when they need it.

Support mechanisms, the removal of the stigma associated with experiencing emotional distress, and education about good mental health being just as important as good physical health need to be available and easily accessible to all first responders.


If you believe change is possible, you want to change, and you are willing to do the work, you absolutely CAN get your life back.”

Get your copy of The Soldier's Guide to PTSDThe Soldier's Workbook

or Acknowledge & Heal, A Women's-Focused Guide to PTSD

No comments:

Post a Comment