PLEASANT GROVE, Utah — Within the fire service, it has often been a stigma not to talk about mental health and to hide issues one is facing away.
While that has been a problem across the country, many are working to change it.
“I’ve been in the service for 30 years… so I’ve seen a fair amount of stuff,” Deputy Chief Andrew Engemann of the Pleasant Grove Fire Department said. “A lot of times, some of that stuff doesn’t hit you till later on. You could be a week later, a month later, a year later for all it's worth, and all of a sudden that incident comes back to you and it hits you in a different way.”
In order to help firefighters and crews deal with these struggles, Pleasant Grove Fire has created what they are calling Mental Health Mondays.
Captain Scott Ash with the department is one who came up with the idea and is spearheading the process.
Ash will send out a sheet of topics and discussion points every Monday. Then, when the shift comes together with their captain, the crews will discuss the topics peer to peer.
“That really helps,” Engemann said. “I think it's great for the guys to open and talk about it.”
But at first, some may have been hesitant to talk because of that fear over talking about mental health issues, Battalion Chief Chase Gustman told FOX 13.
“But as it became norm, more and more discussion, people were more open,” he said. “The firefighters were able to have that open discussion, and it felt like we were accomplishing something. It felt good.”
Now that they are on a roll, both firefighters say the conversations are helping immensely as well as helping them cope with some of the issues that they all face.
“For so long in the fire service and in a lot of places like that, it's been a 'hide it, don’t show it' mentality,” Engemann said.
But it's not just about coming together once a week to talk about things — the hope is these will create a more open and inviting environment for any firefighter to bring up issues that they face as they are happening.
“During the week when they're at home and something happens,” Engemann said, “they're now able to call their captain, call us, call somebody that’s willing to talk to and listen to, and that’s what we’re hoping for.”
As more agencies think about the idea of putting a program out there like this, Gustman passed along some advice.
“It doesn’t have to be some big giant plan and program put in place. It could be just a simple one-page document talking about the signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress," he said. “You've got to do what you've got to do to stay healthy — not only for you.. but for your crew and your family.”
The department has many employees that work at other stations or jobs and as this program picks up steam, they are encouraging their employees to spread this and help break the stigma of mental health within the fire services.