on 26 Apr 2019 5:47 AM
  • General

Support group helps firefighters dealing with mental health issues

By Samantha Phillips

The Vindicator sphillips@vindy.com


About 390,000 firefighters suffer from post traumatic stress disorder nationwide, according to firefightermentalhealth.org. The Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters formed the OAPFF Peer Support Team about two years ago to assist firefighters facing PTSD and other mental- health, behavioral-health and addiction issues. “It’s a way of intervening and getting people the proper treatments they need,” said Bryan Iceman, a Girard firefighter who is a peer-support member. Tracey Wright, a captain with the Youngstown Fire Department, is the District 3 Peer Support Coordinator. The district covers 15 counties, from Ashtabula County to Jefferson County and includes Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties. “We focus on physical health so much. This is about how can we better deal with mental health?” she said. The team is made up of 30 firefighters in five districts around the state who are trained to provide emotional and mental-health support, plus crisis intervention and community-resource networking to fellow firefighters. Firefighters can choose if they want to talk to a support member from their own department if available or request someone from a different department. Firefighters can also contact the OAPFF and ask a peer-support member to check on a co-worker. Wright clarified that they are not mental-health professionals. But some firefighters may feel more comfortable confiding in someone who shares similar experiences on the job. All personal information is kept confidential. “There is a stigma related to mental-health issues, people are afraid to reach out,” Wright said. “Generally speaking, we are the ones people come to when they are in distress, so for us, we’re hesitant to show that vulnerability,” The problems that come up could be from cumulative stress or in response to a traumatic call. Sometimes, it could be a personal problem, such as marital issues. The team also provides educational presentations to fire departments about mental health. “It’s about being proactive, not reactive,” Wright said. Iceman said he has dealt with PTSD from his many years as a paramedic, so he can relate to people who ask for help for that condition. “When people call me I’m there to listen,” he said. Some of the most common problems firefighters experience are depression, PTSD, insomnia and drug addiction, according to the peer-support website. “It’s really about making sure one we can listen to them, that’s sometimes all that’s needed. But we also want to connect them with whatever professional resources they might need,” Wright added.