Responding to your own MENTAL HEALTH


CarolinaFireJournal - By Mark Lamplugh
By Mark Lamplugh
04/24/2015 -

A firefighter’s job is unlike any other. We wear our pride and dedication to our careers on our sleeves, on the windows of our cars, tattooed on our bodies. All my life growing up I wanted to be involved in the fire service. It helped that my dad, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all firefighters – not to mention my uncle and two cousins. I really didn’t have much of a choice. I remember walking into the engine room, running up and ringing the bell on the front of the truck, smelling the fire gear hanging on the racks, and playing the pinball games.

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The trauma that we see as firefighters on a daily basis will take a toll. Understanding how to deal with your body’s reactions to trauma may put you ahead of the game. Taking advantage of simple ways to recognize that we’re starting to struggle mentally with what we see on the job may be as important as life or death.

I started as a junior in 1994. They changed the bylaws that year and moved the age up just so I could join sooner. I worked the bingos every Friday night and set up for the weddings on the weekends. I took every fire school that came available. I wanted to learn everything as fast as I could.

Looking back on all the trainings available, there was a class they forgot: how to respond to your own mental health.

The trauma that we see as firefighters on a daily basis will take a toll. Understanding how to deal with your body’s reactions to trauma may put you ahead of the game. Taking advantage of simple ways to recognize that we’re starting to struggle mentally with what we see on the job may be as important as life or death.

Currently, the number of suicides in the fire service is unprecedented. Organizations such as The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance are trying to tackle these issues. Simple warning signs that you can look out for in yourself are crucial for your career and your overall mental health. Would you know if you are struggling mentally? Would you be able to tell if you need some simple mental health help? Here are some of the signs from Mental Health America that you can look for:

  • Confused thinking
  • Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
  • Feelings of extreme highs and lows
  • Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Denial of obvious problems
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • Substance abuse

If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms it may be time to ask for help. There are many resources at your disposal. If you’re reading this and you aren’t experiencing any of these symptoms then ask yourself, if I were experiencing these symptoms would I know what to do? Would I know where to go? If you don’t, then this may be the opportunity to start putting resources in place for your department so that when you or someone in the department is having an issue, your entire crew knows what to do.

Seeking help through your department’s EAP is a good step. EAPs offer many services that all departments can take advantage of. If you’re a volunteer department then look at the National Volunteers Fire Council’s “Share the Load” program. There are many resources at your disposal that are free. Establishing a Peer Support Network throughout your department is a good way of having caring individuals willing to be there at a moment of crisis. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation also has the 16 Life Safety Initiatives. Initiative 13 focuses on Behavioral Health. They have many different tools that you can put into your behavioral health toolbox.

I personally would like to see required behavioral health training at every fire-training center in the country. These types of trainings should be as important as any other training you’re required to attend. Take a look at the resources below and don’t be afraid to reach out if you need help.

 

ORGANIZATIONS

Mark Lamplugh is a former captain with Lower Chichester Fire Company and a Treatment Consultant with American Addiction Centers. He can be reached via email at [email protected] and phone at 888-731-FIRE (3473).
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