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So, What is Depression?

I read some really disheartening statistics the other day.  The first couple made me think – 1 in 5 first responders will struggle with some form of behavioral health issue, but 92% view seeking treatment as a sign of weakness.

The one that really got me, though, is when I read that firefighters and first responders are 3 times more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.

In 2017 in the US, 129 officers died on the job, but 140 committed suicide, followed by 103 firefighters and first responders.

Your job comes with some pretty extreme highs and lows.  You get to enjoy the appreciation of those you have helped, whose lives you have saved, and the joy of being there to serve others.  But you also get to see a lot of death and destruction.  You see the repercussions of people behaving badly, putting the lives of others at risk, including your own.

You go into your job knowing that you could lose your life, you could lose a team member, and that you will be witness to some horrific things.  When you have been through one of those nights, witnessed the despair of the victims, the devastation, even though you feel good about helping, you can’t come away from some of those situations emotionally unscathed.

How long does it take before some event gets under your skin and you just can’t shake it?  It might be the first time you arrive at a scene like this or the hundredth.

Maybe you saw someone die for no good reason, team members die because some business owner wanted the insurance money, or it is the 10th time you have saved this same drug addict’s life.  You are constantly reminded of man’s shortcomings, yet expected to protect everyone.

How do you see all the injustice, the needless death and violence and not feel sad about the state of the world sometimes?

You do get to see some awesome acts of bravery and kindness too.  It isn’t all criminals, militants and fearing for your life every day all day.  What is the ratio of good experiences to bad ones on a typical day?

Even if it is 50/50, or 80 good to 20 bad, how long does that elation of knowing you did something wonderful last before you witness another senseless death?

We all face horrible things at some point in our lives, but you get to see them up close and personal on a regular basis.  The rest of us watch the news and talk about how horrible something must be, while you were there actually living it.

DepressionWhether it is one particular event that does it, or the culmination of things you’ve seen on the job over a period of time, at some point you’re going to have a hard time keeping your chin up.

It may begin as a feeling of hopelessness, that no matter how many people you save or help, there are always more bad things and it feels like an endless cycle.  Or you might feel helpless and crushed because you can’t save everyone, every time.

Every parent gets exasperated at some point with being the “bad cop” all the time.  You aren’t their parent, but people, just like your children, can be very good at making you feel like you’re a horrible person because you are trying to do what is in their best interest.  That can be really hard to take.  You do great things, but don’t always get the appreciation you deserve.

The point is that you’re going to deal with some level of sadness, grief, and/or depression at some point in your career. Because where does all the disappointment, sadness and frustration go?  Some days it might not be so bad.  But others it might feel so overwhelming that you find yourself having a hard time getting out of bed to go to work.

If you don’t address your emotions and continue down that path without getting any help, you might start to lose interest in some of the good, but non-necessary parts of your life, like working out, cleaning, or caring about your appearance.

When you get into bare minimum mode, taking care of only the most basic things you need to keep your life together, you are already depressed.  It can get worse.  Untreated, it can lead to a point where even your basic needs aren’t important to you anymore.

Severe depression makes you feel empty, hopeless, unable to care about anything, and you forget what happiness feels like.

Depression is a long and miserable path, usually starting slowly, and continuing to get worse the longer you try to hold all of your emotions in and refuse to seek help.

The worst thing about depression is – when you don’t care about anything, and nothing makes you feel happy – what is your motivation to do those things that can actually help you get better?  Once you’re that far down, it is much harder to get back up again.

Look over this list of symptoms and if you are feeling any of those, or you know someone who is, reach out for help.  We count on you to be there for us when we really need you – Please don’t become one of those statistics.  You can find some resources to contact in Canada here and in the US here.

Some signs of clinical depression:

  • Changes in appetite and sudden weight fluctuations
  • Lack of energy
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness
  • Having difficulty with getting to sleep and/or waking up
  • Wanting to sleep a lot
  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Easily irritated
  • Decrease in communication with others
  • Wanting to be alone more often
  • Drinking more than usual, or using drugs
  • Suicidal thoughts
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