back view of firefighter, holding helmet, looking at charred remains of building, firefighting and trauma after effects

Firefighting and trauma often go together. But too commonly, firefighters don’t get the support they need. At the Valencia Relationship Institute, quite a few of our clients are firefighters who took their work home with them after some tough on-the-job experiences.

This topic is close to our hearts not only because of our clientele. We also have relatives who served in the past or are currently serving in this line of duty in LA County.

Firefighting is a true act of courage. Each day, our men and women suit up knowing full well the physical dangers that could await them but they do their jobs anyway.

But many firefighters are completely unprepared for the mental dangers of their jobs (there are no fire suits for the mind). In fact, firefighters are ten times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

Ironically, the greatest occupational hazards aren’t always the physical ones we all commonly think of. They’re the trauma-based mental battles that ensue after the fact.

Past events replay in the minds of our public servants like a video. Many times, the culprits could be decades old. The actual fire has long been vanquished but inside the minds of thousands of our firefighters, a raging inferno persists.

What is Trauma and Why are Firefighters so Susceptible?

A simple definition of trauma is a tragic life event in which the sufferer is unable to cope in a healthy way.

In short, firefighters face more extremely stressful situations than the general public. The problem lies in the amount of stress and the nature of it (not all stress is bad).

The saying that “whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger” ought to come with a disclaimer. The saying can be true of trauma victims but it can be equally untrue.

Only those who adopt healthy mindsets and obtain the help they need to properly cope become stronger. Passively letting the after-effects of firefighting and trauma run its course very well could break you down or even destroy you.

What Can Be Done to Safeguard the Mental Health of our Firefighters?

That’s the question the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance has been asking on behalf of our firefighters and their families. And since firefighters are twice as likely to die from suicide than job-related physical dangers, that’s a worthy question to pose.

The FFBHA’s mission slogan is “Saving Those Who Save Others.”

What follows are some ways firefighters (and their families) can safeguard themselves when trauma pays a visit.

1. Remember that Your Life is More Valuable than What You Do

For many people, much of their identity is wrapped up in what they do. There are real and imagined fears of what could happen professionally if co-workers found out about their PTSD or Depression, for instance.

The first step is to realize that far more is at stake if these mental health difficulties aren’t addressed.

The mental health stigmas still lingering in this field need some serious extinguishing. Firefighters may be heroes but they’re still human. At times, even the helper needs help and there is absolutely no shame in that fact.

And so, as you’ve probably heard before, the first step towards proper healing from trauma is to “first admit there is a problem.” You’re struggling to cope with a tragic life experience and that’s OK.

Tell someone you trust that you’re having a tough time with something that happened on the job. Admit that the event still negatively affects your life. Just admitting you’re struggling will likely help but it may not be enough.

2. Get the Help You Need

When it comes to firefighting and trauma relief, the road to healing may be the result of a number of support factors. That could include taking some time away from your work, talking about your experiences with those closest to you and seeking help from a trusted professional.

Your counselor can help you to adopt healthy mindsets in relation to your trauma. Your counselor can also use evidence-based treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy to help you in your recovery.

After all, talking about your traumatic event will only be helpful if you can adopt the proper perspective of the event.

Another thing to keep in mind is that firefighting and trauma don’t happen in a vacuum. Your family has lived out the struggle you’ve taken home. Given this fact, it could be wise to consider couples counseling or even family counseling as you work through your grief and trauma.

The Valencia Relationship Institute is proud to serve the firefighters who bravely serve our communities. Scheduling an appointment with us isn’t a sign of weakness. It takes a strong person to ask for help when you need it.

We operate with the belief that every one of us needs help from others in order to thrive in life. Now could be the perfect time to schedule an appointment with your Valencia, CA counseling team.