Firefighters are often the first responders to an emergency; they are not afraid to dive head first into a burning building to help others on the inside. They risk their lives every day to save people, but how does the stress of emergency responses weigh on firefighters?
Many firefighters willingly give their time and service – many on a voluntary basis. However, more of these individuals are reporting psychological effects after serving on the front lines. Those in the fire service have higher rates of depression and suicide.
They also report a negative stigma with mental health in the stations because it goes against the stereotype of firefighters as strong, tough professionals. It makes many firefighters embarrassed to seek help or discuss their mental conditions.
Effects of chronic stress
With the amount of stress firefighters face daily, it makes complete sense why they are experiencing more mental health concerns than the average person. The ongoing exposure to stress puts them in a vulnerable position to not only mental illnesses, like PTSD or depression, but physical disorders as well.
According to the American Psychological Association, ongoing stress can have significant impacts on the body including:
- Musculoskeletal system – chronic stress causes the muscles to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness
- Respiratory system – stress can influence your breathing depending and eventually lead to asthma or lung disease
- Cardiovascular – chronic stress can contribute to problems for the heart and blood vessels
- Reproductive system – both males and females can experience problems producing the appropriate hormones during times of stress
- Nervous system – stress triggers a “flight or fight” responses and if it is constantly activated, it drains the body
Breaking barriers for mental health
Few programs exist to specifically address mental health for firefighters, but families and mental health professionals can offer the support system firefighters need to recover from the daily stress of their jobs.
However, it’s up to the firefighter themselves to break the barrier associated with mental health and seek the help they need. If you can do that, your mental and physical health will be better into the future.