Firefighters and EMTs face many dangers while on the job. However, the number one leading cause of death for firefighters and EMTs is not related to fire or other dangers faced in the line of duty. The number one leading cause of death among firefighters and EMTs is, in fact, suicide. According to a 2017 study, more firefighters committed suicide than died in the line of duty.
Suicide: A Leading Cause of Death for Firefighters and EMTs
According to the Ruderman White Paper on Mental Health and Suicide of First Responders, 103 firefighters committed suicide in 2017 compared to 93 who died in the line of duty. The study also states that only 40% of firefighter suicides were actually reported, meaning the total number of firefighter suicides could have been much higher. But why is suicide so prevalent among firefighters and first responders?
Repeated exposure to trauma and mental health
Firefighters and EMTs see the worst of human suffering and tragedy. On a daily basis, they encounter scenes of carnage that most of us would never see in our lifetimes. This repeated exposure to trauma is at the root of the problem of firefighter suicides.
According to the Ruderman study, firefighters are exposed to an average of 188 traumatic events in their careers. This repeated exposure to trauma provides a direct link to suicide rates among firefighters and EMTs. Repeated exposure to traumatic events contributes to mental health problems including PTSD and depression. In fact, firefighters are five times more likely to experience depression than the rest of the population.
Firefighters and EMTs not seeking help
Unfortunately, stigmas around mental health problems deter many firefighters from seeking mental health treatment. To be a firefighter is to be tough and brave. Therefore, seeking help for PTSD or depression would be perceived as weakness or cowardice in the minds of firefighters in need of mental health treatment.
The suicide rate among firefighters and EMTs has become a national crisis. In order to break this terrible trend, we need to break the stigma of mental health, especially when it comes to public servants like firefighters and EMTs.
Care about the health and safety of Firefighters and EMTs? Read other articles from our Firefighter health series.