The rate of suicide among firefighters, paramedics, law enforcement officers, military, trauma workers and other first responders is steady on the rise. First responders experience the worst stress and trauma daily, which often affects their mental health over time. Although our first responders are highly trained to handle chaos on the scene, the constant exposure to horrific images from bodily injuries, violence, personal threats, accidents, fires, destruction and death can takes it’s toll.
Often, first responders have a hard time admitting they need help given their duty to help others. The sense of responsibility can be overwhelming when first responders struggle with their own issues but don’t want to appear helpless. Most first responders slip into a routine of isolating, escape or avoidance from the trauma. Unhealthy behaviors such as drug and alcohol addiction, prescription drug abuse, gambling, soliciting sex, and other self-destructive behaviors become more prevalent.
Due to the acute stress and trauma, it’s common for first responders to develop co-occurring mental health disorders with substance use disorder, which can lead to suicidal ideation. Suicide among first responders, especially firefighters, is often a hushed topic and the macho culture of silence often discourages any attempts to seek help.
Suicide Prevention for First Responders
According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans. Suicide has become such an epidemic among firefighters, that organizations such as the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance have worked hard to spread awareness about suicide among firefighter personnel and paramedics.
The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance released a report that revealed that 130 first responders committed suicide in 2016. In 2015, there were 135 first responders who committed suicide and in the year prior, there were 114 first responder deaths by suicide. The numbers are highly under-estimated because they are based on the number of suicides that are reported to the organization. Unfortunately, most fire departments don’t track or report suicides, which further fuels the culture of silence.
An article in the Al Jazeera, reported that more firefighters die from suicide than fighting fires on the job in America. The macho culture of silence on mental health and the lack of on-the-job support contributes greatly to the rise in suicide deaths. The t.v. series, Fault Lines reveals this haunting fact below:
Stigma of Addiction and Mental Illness
The stigma of addiction and mental illness in America is another reason why firefighters and other first responders don’t reach out for the help they need. According to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, one in five adults or 20 percent of Americans are living with a diagnosable mental health disorder.
Approximately 43.8 million adults 18 years and older had a diagnosable mental disorder in 2013; however, many more did not receive treatment for mental illness. In that same report, it was noted that only 44.7 percent of adults with a mental illness received treatment. The lack of education on mental health disorders and historic stigma about mental health treatment are contributing factors to why people don’t seek treatment.
Higher Rate of Mental Health Disorders
With all the pressures to keep it together, it should be no surprise that first responders have a higher rate of mental illness,addiction, and suicide. First responders have to live up to high expectations to overcome their own struggles and “suck it up and just deal with it.” However, without the proper treatment or support to improve their mental health, most first responders are left to their own devices to self-medicate, escape and isolate, which worsens their mental health over time.
It’s estimated that about 25 percent of all first responders struggle with some form of addiction, drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, etc. The United States Fire Association estimated that a reported 10 percent of firefighters struggle with substance abuse and mental illness. The most common mental health disorders first responders struggle with are post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders.
Proper Treatment for First Responders
At Transformations Treatment Center, we are committed to working with fire departments, law enforcement, military and emergency personnel. Our first responders addiction treatment program is specifically designed to help clients manage trauma, rebuild family relationships, learn about suicide awareness and prevention, anger management, and grief and loss. Clients receive individualized care including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy to address trauma, brain solutions therapy, vibroacoustic therapy and individual and group therapy from licensed therapists.
Our First Responders Program is lead by Carlos Farina, a war veteran who has spent 30 years as a law enforcement officer. During his career, his assignments included road patrol duty, hostage negotiator, and psychological profiler. Carlos knows first-hand the demands that first responders face and he is dedicated to helping our clients heal from their trauma, substance abuse, PTSD, depression, and other co-occurring disorders.
We are committed to providing specialized care for all first responders struggling with addiction, trauma, depression, and other co-occurring disorders. If you or your loved one is a first responder struggling with substance abuse, reach out to our admissions team today and call 877-756-0372.