Suicidal Thoughts – It’s Finally Time to Talk About It

July 31, 2019

Do you think you are immune to the stress of everyday life? Do you think you would never hurt yourself? Or have you thought of it but kept it hidden from everyone? You are not alone. Everyone has a breaking point—even firefighters.

Unfortunately, the rate of suicides for first responders is on the rise, with even our own department experiencing the sting of personal tragedy. These cases are not isolated nor are the victims strangers in our lives. They are people that we have worked side-by-side with for years. It is no secret that first responders experience daily stress as they deal with some of the worst cases of trauma. Over time these stressors can and do impact our health, both mentally and physically. Like a cancer, they can slowly and silently rob people of their health.

“We must do everything possible to remove barriers that discourage firefighters from reaching out for the behavioral health assistance.” – Dr. Steve Froehlich PH.D.

Many times pride keeps us from admitting that we need help. Often the sense of responsibility can be overwhelming when first responders struggle alone with their issues. They don’t want to appear helpless or weak, so it is not uncommon for some to isolate themselves or try to escape from the pressures of the job by indulging in unhealthy activities such as drug and alcohol addiction, prescription drug abuse, gambling, soliciting sex, and other self-destructive behaviors.

How to Prevent Suicide in First Responders

The topic of suicide is usually not brought up around the kitchen table. Our virile nature discourages such display of weakness, leading most to suffer in silence. It’s not until it hits close to home that we even acknowledge the subject exists in our world.

Dr. Steve Froehlich, UFLAC’s Director of Behavioral Health Services is well aware of the fire service and its resistance to talk about the subject of mental health and is working hard to change this. He writes, “The time is now for an all-out push to break down the barriers preventing “best in class” behavioral health services for firefighters and their families across this amazing country. Annual firefighter suicides have now overtaken the yearly number of line of duty deaths in the US. We must do everything possible to remove barriers that discourage firefighters from reaching out for the behavioral health assistance that they may need. We believe that Peer Support Programs are the most effective approach within the firefighter culture. LAFD has highly trained mental health professionals and state of the art services to offer members. With that said, within the culture it takes a Peer Support Team member to bridge the individual in need, to the professional service provider who can help. To be transparent, I would never go, nor would I send a family member to any medical professional unless that provider was recommended by a trusted source. This is what the Peer Support Team member brings to the table. LAFD right now has 95 well-trained and highly motivated Peer Support Team members ready to assist. We are all here to help.”

Our Mental Health

According to the United States Fire Association, 10 percent of firefighters suffer with some form of mental illness and substance abuse. The most common forms listed were PTSD, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Left unchecked, these conditions can easily lead one down the road to self-destruction. Signs of mental illness include feelings of apathy and wanting to withdrawal. Some will retreat within themselves and avoid hanging out with friends, while others will display unexplained emotional outbursts. Memory issues are common and so is the ability to focus on one particular subject. Personal hygiene can also suffer due to the lack of feelings of self-worth. According to Health.com, up to 80 percent of people with mental illness have problems with sleep. Now, lack of sleep is a staple in a first responder’s life and, by itself, not necessarily a sign that something is wrong. However, continued periods of sleeplessness can lead to poor decision making that can lead to any number of other health issues.

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or feelings of anxiety or depression, it’s time to ask for help. The days of suffering in silence must, and can, come to an end before we lose another one of our brothers or sisters to this real, but treatable, condition. Just don’t think about it—Talk about it!

Peer Support Roster (all contacts are confidential}
• Chaplains – Rick Godinez (213) 797-2404 or MFC floor Captain –
(213) 576-8920
• Dr. Krystle Madrid, Psychologist LAFD Behavioral Health – (213) 718-0768
• Audrey Martinez, Ph.D, Psychologist LAFD Behavioral Health –
(213) 435-3996
• Dr. Steven. Froehlich, Ph.D, Psychologist UFLAC Local 112 – (818) 645-9027
• Nancy Mraz, CEAP, UFLAC Local 112 – (213) 598-8794
• Valerie Lawrence. LAFRA Family Support Group – (323) 259-0996

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