Treatment Experts on the Latest Research, Best Practices and Treatment Options – October 2015
It’s important to note, too, that there are various aspects of the job that can contribute positively to mental health. These include:
- Positive relationships with coworkers
- Meaningful and important work
- Productive and/or positive atmosphere in the workplace
- Livable wages and benefits
Finding balance when the negative issues begin to outweigh the positive is essential to maintaining optimum mental health.
Speak with a First Responder Specialist
Firefighters: 888-731-FIRE (3473)
Police Officers: 855-997-6542
“Because of the extreme things we see in our everyday line of duty…It’s easy to develop an ‘us-and-them’ attitude. It’s very tempting to want to stay with those who understand – and soon family and friends can even be excluded. We have to watch out for that.”
— Retired Fire Captain Michael Morse
Sometimes it takes conscientious effort to maintain positive relationships with friends and family members.
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Culture and Mental Health Treatment in American Society
In the United States, treatment of all mental health disorders is essentially based on scientific research and evidence that is objective and repeatable. The self-correcting process that comes with new and diversified research methods, the peer review of findings, and the transparency of research provided through publication in journals not only help to spread awareness of new and updated treatments but also demonstrate the differences among patients when exposed to different treatments and/or combinations of treatments in different contexts.
Because the United States is a melting pot of cultures, it becomes important then to discuss the significant impact that an individual’s culture and personal experience not only has on the development of mental health symptoms but on one’s willingness and ability to seek treatment, follow through with treatment, and benefit from the treatment services commonly applied to the care of different diagnoses.
“Culture” includes the views, beliefs, and values that an individuals holds as “normal” and can impact the experiences and choices of the client, the client’s family and community, the clinician, as well as the body of work informing treatment. Additionally, other cultural issues – such as gender, race, economic status, professional culture, religious views, and more – may contribute to an increased or decreased ability to access and benefit from different mental health treatment models or to work effectively with different clinicians. It’s important to take all these issues into consideration when determining the best course of action for treatment.
The Stigma of Mental Illness in the US
The 2007 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suggest that the stigma against those who are living with mental illness is a significant issue in the United States. For example, only 24.6 percent of participants who were living with mental health symptoms thought that people would care about their struggle. Fortunately, this same study found that 57.3 percent of respondents who were not struggling with mental health symptoms believed that people were sympathetic to the issue. These survey results could be interpreted as those with mental health issue mistakenly underestimate the overall sympathetic nature of the general population when it comes to those suffering from mental health issues.
Furthermore, the study also found that almost 77.6 percent of people living with mental health symptoms and almost 88.6 percent of those not living with mental health issues believed that treatment could assist in helping the person to live a balanced and “normal” life. These survey results could be viewed as showing an overwhelming consensus that treatment is a good thing.
What do these findings suggest? Possibilities include:
- Lower rates of people in need of treatment seeking help due to fear of being judged by others
- Increased self-judgment and incidences of depression and low self-esteem among those living with mental health symptoms
- Increased attempts to self-medicate mental health symptoms through drugs and alcohol rather than seeking treatment
- Decreased likelihood that family members will admit that the struggles of a family member are signs of anything more than a passing phase or “normal,” especially among first responders given the nature of the job
- Less support for people in recovery from mental illness (e.g., professionally, among peers, in the community, etc.)
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) among other mental wellness agencies is working to decrease stigma in the United States by dispelling myths and increasing awareness of the personal experience of those living with different mental health symptoms. One way in which SAMHSA is working to increase compassion and support for those living with mental health symptoms is by advocating for the development of peer support and social inclusion services for individuals and their families. These services seek to:
- Increase understanding of addiction and other mental health disorders
- Provide people in recovery for mental health issues with a forum to safely share about their experiences
- Provide people in recovery and their families a place to connect with others who are living with similar issues
- Allow the public to step forward, offer support, and share their experiences
For firefighters, first responders, and their families, the stigma against mental health issues can be an obstacle to treatment. Not wanting to call attention to their struggle and preferring instead to focus on the job, many in the profession do not want to acknowledge that they might be in need of treatment or that their symptoms may be complicating their ability to function physically and/or mentally.
“In the mid 80’s NFPA 1500 mandated that each department have a Members Assistance Program…So if anything, they were ahead of the curve.”
— Chief Michael A. Healy, addiction specialist and former chief fire instructor of American Addiction Centers
The organization that writes standards for firefighter safety – NFPA – gave behavioral health a distinct chapter in 2013. And the organization generally leads the charge in taking proactive measures to ensure firefighter safety.NFPA.Org
This indicates that while preventative behavioral health has taken a while to gain broad scale traction, things are changing for the better.
An upsurge in prevention and education efforts across support organizations for active firefighters and first responders as well as retired veterans, including organizations like the National Fire Protection Association, has helped to increase awareness of how common mental health issues may be among first responders and firefighters. It has also improved access to appropriate care and treatment.