On the East Coast, the place where firefighters reside is called a firehouse. On the West Coast, it’s called a fire station. Misusing the terms — which may seem insignificant — can cause a shift in credibility when it comes to talking with fire and emergency medical services (EMS) professionals, said Angela Leath, a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) National Trainer. Leath trains MHFA Instructors, who go on to teach and certify Mental Health First Aiders.
Being sensitive about even these small details speaks volumes, especially when talking about mental health within the fire/EMS community. Depression and suicide rates are up to five times more common in first responders than the general public, so resources and support are needed.
Recognizing those nuances adds authenticity, which is why MHFA USA has developed the community-specific course MHFA for Fire/EMS. Large amounts of research and working closely with subject matter experts went into developing the course and making it as relatable and effective as possible. Other community-specific courses address the unique needs of people including older adults; military, veterans and their families; and rural communities.
“People want to feel represented in their mental health journey,” said Leath, explaining why these community specific courses are vital to connecting with more people.
MHFA for Fire/EMS contains real-world scenarios Instructors can use to guide learners in helping someone who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge. It covers the risk and protective factors and the unique impact of mental health and mental health challenges on first responders.
“This course is inclusive for all people involved in the fire/EMS community,” said Leath. “It includes city firefighting, as well as wildland firefighting and dispatch. The scenarios in the course allow Instructors to choose what role learners are playing, so it’s relatable and they feel represented.”
People in the fire/EMS community face challenges other groups don’t. MHFA has content tailored to their needs that hits and sticks on a deeper level.
“To be real, some of these first responders get home after responding to a child drowning, try to relax, then get a call to respond to a shooting two blocks away. It’s just constant,” said Leath. “This community needs to learn how to help each other decompress and process their emotions.”