Is Mental Health Awareness Part of Your Training Program?

Fire Service Instructors have trained and educated firefighters for years on how to take care of others. But do we address how to help the firefighter after the rescue effort is over? 

In order for firefighters to successfully handle high risk / high stress incidents they must be able to suppress their feelings during the incident. This emotional suppression then carries over to the firehouse where the stigma of being mentally weak can prohibit sharing one’s feelings of the incident. Far too many of us have seen or heard of the results from not dealing with suppressed feelings, when they emerge as problems at home or at work. Some of the problems include substance abuse, temper control, PTSD, divorce and suicide. 

What if, we as Fire Service Instructors, infused a short mental health or resiliency component into each of our training sessions. Would this infusion help to make it safe for firefighters to talk about their feelings and/or what might be troubling them by breaking down the stigma of mental health. 

Some of you may be disregarding this as non-sense or softening the Fire Service, but how is this any different than addressing any other safety issue in the Fire Service? We have addressed other safety and wellness issues with all out efforts, but the stigma of mental health prevents many of us from believing and/or supporting this issue. 

In August of 2017, the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI), included one hour of Mental Health Awareness and Resiliency Training in all IFSI courses 24 hours and greater. This is known as the IFSI Resiliency Project. Over a one-year period over 4,500 firefighters/fire officers received this training. While some were uncomfortable with the topic, the mental health/resiliency message was well received. The key to the success of the Resiliency Project is our Instructors who fully bought in and ensured that the message was delivered in a way that made it safe for all involved to share their thoughts and feelings. 

Based upon the experiences and feedback of the IFSI Instructors and students, we would recommend that all Fire Service Instructors consider infusing mental health awareness / resiliency information in all training sessions. Join us on September 28, 2018, at 1300 hours to hear how you can infuse a short, respectful message of mental health and resiliency into your training sessions. A simple message of support can make a big difference.

Join me on Friday, September 28 at 1:00 pm for my session "Infusing Mental Health and Resiliency Into Your Training Program" at the ISFSI Fall Instructor Development Conference in Tinley Park, Illinois. Register online by September 1 to save money!

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