For many first responders, this year’s COVID-19 outbreak has been very trying and stressful, impacting firefighter mental health in several ways. While most are concerned with the physical impacts of the virus, their mental state is just as important.
Fire departments have taken new approaches to keep their fire crews healthy and safe during the coronavirus pandemic, including providing additional PPE on suspected COVID-19 calls, daily screening for potential symptoms, and regular temperature checks.
While our nation’s firefighters’ physical health should always remain a top priority, their mental health remains just as important. To ensure that firefighters can adjust and get through challenging times like these, fire department leaders must support mental health initiatives and find ways to help crew members take care of themselves.
Here are ways firefighting operations can help their crews grow and maintain mental strength.
It Starts at the Top
The best way to teach firefighters that it’s okay to not feel okay is to start at the leadership level. For example, instead of just holding an awareness class and going over statistics about stress, suicide, and PTSD of the job, especially due to COVID-19, leaders should make it personal. At some point, every first responder has struggled in some way or another.
Leaders must be able to share their experience and model vulnerability. Opening up, sharing similar experiences, and keeping an eye on everyone’s mental health is crucial. Without this kind of support, firefighters can end up feeling like they’re isolated and will be unable to find constructive ways to rebuild their mental strength.
Promote Good Habits for Physical & Mental Health
Diet and nutrition play a large role in overall physical and mental health. After all, what you eat affects how you feel. If you’re dining on donuts and cheeseburgers every day, it will not only weigh you down mentally over time but physically as well.
Fire stations should encourage healthy eating and exercise courses to help firefighters stay fit and sharp. What’s more, there should be an emphasis on healthy sleeping habits to improve focus and safety. Research shows that sleep duration and sleep quality have direct impacts on mood changes and mental illness. Getting a good night’s sleep is no longer just a recommendation, but a necessity.
Adopt Simple Stress Reduction Practices
Mindfulness, which is the practice of attention on purpose in the present time, has been shown to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Whether it’s five-minute yoga flows or daily group meditations, firefighters can lower their stress levels in various ways.
Another effective stress reduction practice is to breathe deeply and purposefully. Holding in for four seconds, then breathing out for four seconds and repeating activates the parasympathetic nervous system, turning off the fight-or-flight response.
Reach Out When Help is Needed
Reaching out for help is a sign of strength—not a sign of weakness. The only real way to make a change and ensure that firefighters feel better and safer in these stressful times is by making sure the crew members understand they can reach out for help when they need it.
More importantly, fire service leaders need to find and provide their crews with the right resources. There are specific mental health services available for first responders, targeting their stresses and diving into what they need to work on.
Listening to what our bodies and minds are telling us can help mitigate the risks of stress and depression in these times. Having the right leadership and access to resources will encourage firefighters to be more in tune with their health and strive toward a healthier mind.
About Provident Fire Plus
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