Fire and rescue - how to manage your mental wellbeing

Explains how to manage mental wellbeing if you work in the fire and rescue service, including how to build resilience and where to go for support.

Your stories

What is mental health and mental wellbeing?

Taryn blogs about mental health and wellbeing. What do they mean to you?

Taryn Ozorio
Posted on 24/01/2011

Graham's story

Graham is a watch manager who has spent 25 years in the fire service. When a combination of personal and work-related issues led him to experience depression, speaking to his colleagues helped him with his recovery.

I've primarily been a fireman all my life. I've loved every single minute of it. The 14 years I spent on one watch at Sheffield was probably the best time of my life. However, towards the end of that period, bits and bobs of my family life were affecting me - my son was getting in trouble with the police and my father died. I don't know if it was these family issues or my own propensity for this type of thinking that led me to fall ill.

One day I went to a car crash. It was the first incident I'd come across where I just couldn't bear to look at the scene. This was really unusual for me, as generally I'd be the first at the scene, and there was nothing there that I hadn't seen before.

Later I chatted to the occupational nurse about it, and she said that I just needed time to recover from my dad's passing. So it sort of went away, but it was always in the back of my mind that I still wasn't well.

Then things started to dip again for no apparent reason. I wasn't acting the same at work, I wasn't engaging with people. It was really powerful this time around.

I remember needing to buy a pair of shorts, but I couldn't get myself in to the shop because I couldn't bear to face people - I just wanted to be on my own.

Things built up and I ended up going off sick for three or four months because of depression. 

I went to a rehabilitation centre run by the Fire Fighters Charity. It was absolutely fantastic - two weeks away from everything where I could just talk about how I felt, exercise, and get out in the countryside.

The two weeks were really a shining light for me. It switched a light bulb on that I have to make the effort to make myself better, to drive it out of myself by talking to people, which is why I now volunteer at work to do talks on this topic.

As watch manager I've told my crew that if they want to talk to me one-on-one that's okay, and if they want to take themselves off to a corner that's fine too. I've also set up talks round the table after an incident so we deal with all the stuff we have to for work, but then try to put time aside for the watch to sit down, have a cup of tea, and just talk about things in general. Hopefully from what I've gone through they'll benefit in seeing that approach.

I joined the fire service in 1989, so it was still a very macho, 'suck it up and get on with it' culture. It was difficult to speak to colleagues.

But it's been my experience that the more I've spoken to colleagues about how I'm feeling, the better I feel.

And they don't have to be trained professionals; a lot of the conversations I'd had round stations and on headquarters have been between me and co-workers, without having an occupational health therapist involved.

So my message would be that you're not alone, you just need to voice your concerns and how you're feeling and you'll be amazed how many people are actually feeling the same, and how many people want to support you through that.

This information was published in May 2015. We will revise it in 2018.

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