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Make the Push: Talking Mental Health Beyond May

[ This post discusses mental health and mentions suicide. If you or someone you know is in immediate crisis or has suicide-related concerns, please call 9-8-8 for 24/7 support – or one of the resources listed at the end of this article. ]

May is colloquially considered Mental Health Awareness Month, but let’s be frank: firefighters need to be aware of their mental health EVERY month. Keeping physically fit is only half the battle; The other half is staying mentally fit.

And that can be challenging for anyone, but we know that firefighters and first responders face unique mental health challenges that come hand-in-hand with the rewards of the career.

While not about fire hose specifically, this topic is important to us here at Mercedes Textiles. We put your safety first in every way we can – be that equipping you with premium products or information or resources. Because YOU are on the line, and that matters to us.

We know the terrifying realities you may face on the job. We know the ongoing toll it takes on you to be exposed to so many hard, often life-threatening situations. We hear the stories and we see the effects on the firefighters we have the privilege to build relationships with.

“Guys just run their butts off, and they’ve seen it all–you can just see the wear and tear in some of these guys that really get run through the wringer on traumatic calls,” says Lt. Kevin Pfluger of Live Oak Fire in Texas, who is outspoken in pushing the conversation yearround. “I’m glad that there’s this mental health push going on. Sometimes you just need help.”

A mental health epidemic by the numbers

First, some facts: The CDC reports that in 2021 alone a staggering 12.3 million American adults seriously considered suicide, 3.5 million planned it, 1.7 million attempted it, and 48,000 succeeded. While no data exists regarding how only 48,000 of those 1.7 million who attempted it were successful, most first responders are already intuitively aware: Many of you have been on those calls.

And nobody denies that the rates of suicide are brutally high in first responder fields. In fact, when statistics were compiled by the Ruderman Family Foundation, they found that more firefighters and police officers died from suicide than from LoDD for the year they studied. Despite the realities of the job, those should be considered preventable deaths

The fire service has standards upon standards for your physical safety, yet many departments do not have a standard or requirement for ongoing mental support. We raise awareness of the cancer risks on the job, and this is no different. Your mental health “contamination” can be just as deadly as PFAS.

Fighting the mental health stigma

The stigma against seeking mental health treatment is part of a mindset that will take years of effort to change. And strides are being made.

But there’s still not nearly enough conversation about mental health within police and fire departments, the 2017 study by the Ruderman Family Foundation points out.

“Silence can be deadly, because it is interpreted as a lack of acceptance and thus morphs into a barrier that prevents first responders from accessing potentially life-saving mental health services,” the study concluded. And that can even include silence from surviving family, if they have fears that dying by suicide means their family member won’t be buried in honor.

Silence can be deadly. No matter the mission, this could well be the underlying message for many of the first responder groups that are increasingly sounding the alarm. Groups like F*ck the Stigma an account devoted to educating the firefighter population on the impact of PTSD, with 1700 followers on Instagram.

“Times change, man. The fire service has always been a close-knit family. There was a time where we wouldn’t … be investing in that mental side of what we do,” says Shane Bentley, founder of Bearers of the Oath in Georgia. Bentley recently joined the board of Next Rung – an organization that works hard to be a front line service provider for first responders. As their mission statement says, “awareness is great, but just like words without action are dead, so is awareness without proper resources.”

Bentley had been an active part of their peer support network for years prior, and knows first-hand the importance of not just being aware of these resources, but being willing to make the push to use them. “We in the fire service see some pretty nasty things. You gotta talk about things because if you don’t they bottle up.”

"We have to take care of each other.” – Shane Bentley, Bearers of the Oath / Next Rung

Having a Backup Man on and off the line

Confronting such issues on the daily is part and parcel of the job, but that doesn’t make it any easier for first responders to look within – which is why removing the stigma associated with the false dichotomy separating mental health from physical health is being done successfully by peer-to-peer support efforts for first responders.

Teamwork is just as important in battling mental health struggles as it is on the fireground. As the saying goes: two in, two out.

“What we’ve learned in the fire/EMS field is that peer support can buffer the effects of burnout and secondary traumatic stress, encourage more open discussion about mental illness, and decrease stigma around seeking professional mental health support,” therapists Christina Bott and Chelsea Kavanaugh told Crackyl Magazine. “Peer support has become a hot topic lately, and for good reason.”

Which is exactly why we appreciate organizations like Next Rung. They not only raise awareness and break down stigmas, but they actively offer support, resources, and tools to better the mental health of the fire service. We see similar organizations in Canada too, like Boots on the Ground.

Live Oak Fire’s Lt. Pfluger, who is our frontline consultant here at Mercedes Textiles, has seen firsthand how Next Rung helps firefighters through hard times – and has recently joined the peer support network group to do what he can to support the community: Firefighters helping firefighters.

As Bentley of Bearers of the Oath says, “We have to take care of each other.”


While important, peer support is just part of the answer, so it’s great that there are groups out there helping connect first responders to support, guidance and resources. The trick is finding the ones that fit you.

The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance has created a simple self-assessment questionnaire for first responders–if you answer yes to at least three of their 10 questions they suggest referrals for you.

There’s also Break The Stigma, Inc., a charity organization that raises awareness and understanding of first responder mental health issues and offers financial assistance, at


So as we leave May and enter into June – which, coincidentally, is also PTSD Awareness Month –we encourage you to continue breaking the stigma across the frontline all year, and aggressively make the push for your own mental health.

10 simple things to do for yourself

Let us leave you with 10 simple things you can do to support and enhance mental wellness for yourself and your fellow firefighters:

  1. Prioritize sleep
  2. Improve your diet
  3. Exercise, especially outdoors
  4. Diversify your life
  5. Include your family
  6. Renew/initiate social connections and consider finding a coach, mentor or counselor
  7. Don’t forget your pets
  8. Stay up to date with training and professional development
  9. Be aware of self-medication and substance use
  10. Keep up to date with medical care

—---Source: Linda Willing,