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It's Okay To Say I'm Not Okay
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By Southern Maryland Volunteers
March 17, 2023

On March 8th the Bay District VFD hosted the It's Okay To Say I'm Not Okay program by David Lewis MSFA PP. The program focused on mental health for first responders. We would like to think MSFA Past President Lewis for providing us with the program.

Information regarding the program:

The pressures of life can be real. We each live with the pressures of family life, work, finances, relationships, and many other stresses that life puts us through. As fire and EMS responders, we compound these stresses by witnessing the loss of life and property. How each of us handle these stresses is different for each individual. Often, we think that we can hold the memories of these events back and keep moving forward. But for many of us, the stresses build up until the day that we can't handle it anymore. Traditionally, we held the belief that we were beyond these stresses and could handle any situation that we were confronted with. After all, we are a fearless breed; one that runs into situations that others run away from. When new members joined the company, they were told to "Suck it up, Buttercup" when confronted with a stressful situation.

Much has changed over the last decade with how we view our mental state of mind. We recognize that our occupation is both physically and mentally challenging and just as we now take better care of our physical health, more emphasis is being taken on our mental health. The time has come to take the next step forward and ensure that mental health awareness is incorporated into every fire and EMS training program.

When Jeff Dill founded the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA), there was no organization collecting statistics on the number of first responder suicides. Through data collected by the FBHA, we have learned that the number of suicides each year far surpass the number of line of duty deaths. We must act now to reduce the number of suicides among first responders.

In 2016, Scott Geiselhart delivered a presentation at IAFC/VCOS's Symposium in the West on the effects of suicide in the fire service. Scott's story was personal as he shared his own experiences with PTSD and attempted suicide. The IAFC/VCOS Board of Directors took this as a challenge to bring awareness to the issue of emotional and behavioral health, with an emphasis on changing the culture of the fire and EMS services on how we view and handle mental health. Action by the VCOS Board of Directors resulted in the publication of the Yellow Ribbon Report.

Since the publication of the Yellow Ribbon Report, IAFC/VCOS has developed awareness level training programs that have been presented at countless venues across the U.S. Each of the other major fire service organizations, including the IAFF, the NVFC, and the NFFF, have developed similar programs.
Each of these organizations holds an interest in increasing the awareness level of first responders on behavioral health management.

First responders need to understand the effects of stress, recognize the signs of stress, and know where to go for help when they feel overstressed. They need to be able to ask for help without fear of being looked at by their peers as weak and unable to perform the job. It's time for each of us to perform an internal size-up of our own mental health and how we manage stress. Take the time to review the Yellow Ribbon Report and participate in a training program when it is offered near you. The next life you save may be your own. We have to understand that "It's okay to say I'm not okay."

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