Behavioral health: protecting our heroes

CarolinaFireJournal - By Zorrina Harmon
By Zorrina Harmon
01/23/2014 -

We walk amongst our bravest servants and unpronounced to us they may be suicidal. As mentioned in our past article, Retaining our Bravest, reality has always been to first responders “the incident is part of your job, suck it up” (Palmer, 2012). Suicide prevention is about changing that reality. Being suicidal is having the absence of hope. How do we recognize if our brothers and sisters are living with Line of Duty incidents, single or cumulative, and everyday family/life issues that are taking them down a path of hopelessness?


The chance of you knowing someone or of someone close to you committing suicide is very high. First responders are not invulnerable to being suicidistic or suicidal.

Over the past two and one-half decades research has begun to show just how complex the factors contributing to suicide are. In 2002 suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in the U.S. (CDC, 2002). Most recent data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed in 2010, that 38,364 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. In that year, someone in the country died by suicide every 13.7 minutes (AFSP, 2013).

Understanding the risks factors of suicide and knowing that anyone can be at risk for suicide will help organizations, departments and peers, prevent, intervene and change the Ironman culture. Risk factors labeled by the Institute of Medicine’s Reducing Suicide: A National Imperative of particular interest to first responders include (The National Academies, 2013):

  • Males 18-24 and 40-55
  • Effects of acute and chronic stress
  • Impact of trauma
  • Substance or alcohol abuse
  • Childhood trauma
  • Relationship issues
  • Predisposing personality traits
Warning signs include:
  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless
  • Talking about feeling trapped
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated or behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

Bringing awareness and resources to your peers, departments, sisters and brothers is key to prevention. There are a host of resources on a local, state and national level. Spread awareness, seek to educate and help ensure everyone goes home.

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