By the NVFC
The responsibilities of fighting fires and responding to emergencies are stressful both physically and mentally. Firefighters and other first responders are at a greater risk for such behavioral health concerns as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Taking care of your mental health is as important as managing your physical health.
What you can do today:
* Remind department members to seek help if they feel overwhelmed, stressed, or depressed. Create and distribute a listing of available resources and support systems within the department and the community.
* Many universities or local mental health centers host annual screening days for depression and substance abuse.
* Encourage your department to take advantage of these offers.
* Encourage everyone in your department to be aware of the other members. Is one member working long hours, under a lot of stress, or drinking more heavily than usual? Be accountable for each other and don’t be afraid to ask that person if you can help.
* Encourage play! Coordinate events that are just for fun. Have a friendly game of touch football, play board or card games in between calls, plan a heart-healthy cooking class – anything that helps build camaraderie while also reducing stress.
* Ask a local mental health professional or service provider to donate an hour to speak to department members. They can explain that mental health is just as important as physical health, and that it is okay to talk about it. They can also speak about how mental health is related to physical health, including heart disease and stroke.
* Encourage members to exercise every day, even if it is just going for a walk outside. Exercise produces endorphins which improve mood.
* Contact Wills for Heroes, a nonprofit organization that offers free estate planning services to first responders. Knowing that your loved ones are protected creates peace of mind.
* Participate in a local health-related fundraising walk. This will not only raise funds for research to prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or other illnesses, but provide exercise and will give you the satisfaction of supporting a great cause.
* If you are feeling stressed, sad, or depressed, talk to a trusted friend, family member, colleague, support group, or counselor. Talking about what is bothering you can help relieve the stress and make you feel better.
* Find which activities help you relieve stress. Perhaps you feel better after exercising or meditating. Some people relax by listening to soothing music, taking deep breaths, or going for a walk. Find a productive activity that helps you unwind after a stressful day or incident.
* Make sure you get a good night's sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to increased stress or a more negative mood. If you are not getting a good night's sleep, try going to bed earlier tonight and see how you feel in the morning.
Behavioral Health Tips:
* Manage your time wisely.
* Take care of your body. Make sure to eat properly, get enough sleep, maintain proper hygiene, etc.
* Surround yourself with positive individuals.
* Seek help and support during periods of stress.
* Learn techniques to handle stress.
* Involve yourself in productive activities.
* Seek professional assistance if you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or have severe anxiety.