Firefighters are some of the most courageous people in the world. They run into burning buildings and face whatever dangers come their way, all in order to protect the lives and property of others. It's no wonder that many firefighters feel like they are invincible. But as we all know, firefighters are human too, and like everyone else, they can experience depression. Keep reading to learn how depression in firefighters can develop in addition to ways we can extinguish it before it has a chance to take hold.
What is Depression in Firefighters?
First of all, what is depression? Depression is a mental illness that affects people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. It can be caused by a variety of different factors, including genetics or trauma; it can be difficult to recognize the signs in yourself or someone else because they are so varied.
The early stages of depression are characterized by extended bouts of sadness, irritability, loss of interest in daily activities, and changes in sleeping and eating patterns. You may also experience increased anxiety levels or thoughts about suicide.
So what about firefighters?
They often work long shifts that can go upwards of 24 or even 48 hours in length! Although research does not pinpoint extended shifts as a greater cause of depression symptoms, firefighters who work night shifts report disrupted sleep patterns, poor mood, and decreased alertness much more frequently than those on daytime shifts.
This sleep disruption can snowball into routine sleep disturbances, even off-shift, which can then spiral into the use of social crutches such as binge eating and increased alcohol use (especially in the tight-knit, brother and sisterhood camaraderie of the fire service).
If you read our last blog about first responder mental health, we shared some staggering stats about how police officers and paramedics deal with depression and PTSD. Unfortunately, depression in firefighters follows a similar trend.
Research indicates that fire fighters are 3 times more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. Considering the clear danger involved with their job, this data is especially harrowing. As a firefighter, you may witness trauma, death, and destruction on a daily basis. This takes a mental toll.
However, seeking treatment and recognizing depression in fire fighters is often stigmatized and seen as a sign of weakness. Most struggling individuals will refuse to get the help they need before it’s too late.
Raising awareness of this silent suffering is key in extinguishing developing flames of depression in firefighters before they grow into fatal fires.
How Do You Extinguish It?
The symptoms of suffering do not affect depression in firefighters equally, but if you feel like you or someone you know is struggling, there are steps you can take to combat these feelings before they worsen into full-blown depression. These steps include taking care of your physical health through exercise, diet, or even therapy/medical care.
With that said, the first step is always to ask for help. Whether it’s a colleague, spouse, friend, or health professional, help is available to you. Step out of your comfort zone and you may find success with therapy. Or perhaps early morning exercise will prove to improve your mental health. Above all, we recommend giving Yoga For First Responders a try.
Did You Say Yoga?
Yes! Yoga for First Responders provides first responders and firefighters with traditional yoga training that is job specific and culturally informed in order to effectively help them process stress, build resilience, and enhance their performance.
We offer in-service training workshops for fire departments in addition to instructor courses so that you can start organizing your own yoga program. Our passionate team also offers an on-demand app called Cyber Academy. This tool has many helpful resources for processing depression in firefighters including tactical breath work and physical drills.
Contact our team today to get started fighting depression in firefighters together!