Suicidal Thoughts or Contemplation of Suicide Diminish
The Counseling Team International Offers Help
He had contemplated suicide. After losing 19 comrades in the 2013 Yarnell fire, how was he to move forward? In his stirring presentation at the 2016 PSPSA Conference, wildland firefighter Brendan McDonough spoke openly about the burden he carried. So heavy were his memories of surviving the fire that he drove to an isolated area and prepared to shoot himself with the loaded gun he carried.
In “My Lost Brothers” Brendan McDonough wrote passionately about becoming a wildland firefighter. But shortly into his career, on June 28, 2013, he experienced the greatest tragedy of his life. According to Wildfire Today, 20 Hotshots were fighting the blaze when a passing thunderstorm created very strong outflow winds: forcing the fire to change direction.
The flames raced toward the crew, trapping and killing 19 firefighters in a box canyon. Brendan survived because he was serving as a lookout in a location separate from the others and was rescued as the flames encroached upon him.
Unable to stop the thoughts of this tragedy a year later, Brendan took a loaded nine-millimeter handgun from his glovebox. Recalling this moment while speaking at the conference, Brendan said, “As I lifted the gun, there was a song on the radio that made me think of my daughter, and I knew I couldn’t put her through what I was about to do. I just fell apart.”
He unloaded the gun and threw it in the back seat.
“The next few weeks were blurred by alcohol,” he said, until he attended the National Fallen Firefighters memorial service. That is where he encountered a therapist from Phoenix whom he had met earlier. She asked him how he was doing while assuring him that she really wanted to know. He unloaded his feelings for about half an hour while she nodded and listened intently.
He said, “Within a week, I was in counseling with a therapist [she] found for me in Prescott. It saved my life.”
Psychotherapy likely saves countless lives of first responders. In its October 2015 issue, The Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS) published a startling article, “Survey Reveals Alarming Rates of EMS Provider Stress and Thoughts of Suicide” with the subhead: “Data suggests ways to reduce the impact of critical stress on EMTs and paramedics.”
The results of the revealing survey showed that 3,447 (86%) of the 4,022 respondents experienced critical stress (CS). Of these, 1,383 (37%) had contemplated suicide and 225 (6.6%) had actually tried to take their own lives.
“Even taking into account inherent survey bias, these figures were mind-blowing,” states the article. “This information concretely establishes the fact that EMS provider stress is prevalent in our nation and is extreme, to say the least.”
The survey results concluded that the rates of suicide contemplation and suicide attempts significantly decrease when a first responder obtains mental health counseling. A supportive and encouraging environment cut suicide contemplation rates in half and suicide attempt rates by 66%.
If any of your law enforcement or EMS workers show unusual signs of depression or isolation, contact your Peer Support representative, Employee Assistance Program, or supervisor for help.
Please refer to a more complete list of the Warning Signs of Suicide.
The Counseling Team International Is available to help you find the right resource. Call us at 909-884-0133. We are dedicated to the health and wellness of all first responders.