As founder of Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA) I often reflect on our beginning and the roads we have traveled these past six years. We never imagined all the avenues of how behavioral health plays a role in a first responders life from the academies, to counseling, families, the “job” and finally retirement. There are so many aspects within our lives that we have to tend to ensure we have a great career, but overall a better and successful life. One aspect we need to approach is to ask yourself, have I had the talk?
We know our family life is very important and not only to our spouses/partners but to our children as well. Remember, FBHA is the only organization in the U.S. that collects and validates firefighter and EMS suicides. Within our data we know there is no discrimination which means the data does not care if you are career, volunteer, city, suburban, rural, male or female, age or ranks, suicide can occur within all departments. So knowing this we ask you, have you had the talk with your children to see if what you do, see, or act has affected them?
In a world of chaos for first responders, in not only the vehicle accidents, fires and medical calls, we now have to be ready for horrific incidences like bombings and mass shootings. How these affect our first responders will be measured in time. Yet, in real time, how will they play a role on the emotions of our children? If we, the first responders, don’t talk to them about how these calls affect us then will they make assumptions based on how they see us react, especially if we become angry, hit the alcohol or fall into a state of depression. Maybe they see us hide our emotions yet see us act out so differently.
Why is this so vital? Due to social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others, our children are hearing about these calls as they are happening and they know that either their mother or father are responding to them. What type of emotions do you believe they are going through? Anxiety, stress, panic? We need to reassure them before these calls ever happen. Each time we leave for a call or shift they need to be prepared by us talking to them. Let them know how it affects you, how you are trained for precaution and safety and when you return home talk to them to see how they are doing. We know children, especially teenage years can be a difficult time for them to express their emotions yet deep down they care and want to know we are okay as well.
So don’t hesitate to ask them the following questions.
- How do the calls I respond to play an effect on you?
- After a traumatic call(s) do you see a difference in me as a parent?
- Do you ever have any questions about my job?
- Do you worry about me when I go to work?
In addition, please talk to them on how calls effect you as the first responder. We always think it might be harmful, but you will be amazed at how strong our children are these days. Of course, please use discretion based upon the ages of your children but you know your children better than anyone else. Don’t they deserve then to hear from you on how the calls went down instead of social media?