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Not everyone can talk about the topics and issues that first responders encounter. You see and experience things that are unthinkable to most, and that’s why peer support is important. Your peers know what it’s like, they share your perspective, and they are ready to help their fellow responders. You are not alone.
You’ve noticed some concerning signs that one of your co-workers is struggling, and you want to be supportive, but you don’t know if you should get involved. What can you do?
Public safety professionals depend on each other for scene management and effective response, especially when safety is at stake. This teamwork approach can also apply to mental well-being.
If you notice that a peer seems to be having a hard time, don’t wait for them to ask for help. Even if it feels somewhat uncomfortable, start a conversation. Simply asking how they’re doing lets them know you care — and they don’t have to struggle alone.
Use these tips and conversation starters to help support a peer who may be struggling.
If your peer doesn’t want to talk about it, it’s best not to try to force a conversation. Just let them know that you care, and you’re willing to listen.
If your peer wants to talk:
There may be times when you feel very worried about a coworker. They may have said something that alerted you to a more serious level of concern, or perhaps joked in a manner that could be taken the wrong way. If you’re concerned about a peer’s safety, don’t hesitate to respond.
If you feel that a peer may be considering suicide, it’s important to ask the question directly. This can seem like a hard thing to do, but it consists of one simple question: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
When you ask about suicide directly, it gives the person the opportunity to answer honestly and ask for help if they need it. If they say “no,” listen to what they express, and remind them that resources and support are available to help them cope and prevent an escalation of symptoms.
If they answer “yes,” do not leave them alone. Stay with them to make sure they’re safe, and call or text a crisis line for immediate support.
Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance provides a suicide self-screening questionnaire, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers additional information and research, as well as resources and personal stories.
NAMI Frontline Wellness offers no-cost course materials for 1-1 Peer Support Leader training for fire and EMS, as well as law enforcement professionals. To learn more, contact your local NAMI or email email@example.com.
by Lt Maple, Paulding County FD
For everyone on the front lines – we are all in this together.