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Can YOU Talk About IT?

Paul Combs has the ability to put so many words into an illustration that is right on point. View his illustrations at

Paul Combs has the ability to put so many words into an illustration that is right on point. View his illustrations at

Can you talk about mental illness? What does mental illness mean to you? What is it really? What is depression, PTSD, and other forms of mental illness? Keep reading to find out what mental illness is. The topic is taboo, we don’t want to talk about it…but we need to. We need to be able to talk about it, begin to understand it, and know when and where to get help.

This post is meant to be a snippet of information on mental illness. In the wake of the recent news of Robin Williams death and the news of his suffering from mental illness, I felt that this was a decent time to talk about the subject and offer some information on mental illness as well as some outlets to utilize or share with others.

There is no secret that firefighters and EMT’s witness many things in their professional lives that most people wouldn’t imagine coming in contact with. Our abilities to handle these incidents can be overwhelming at times. The truth is that I am not an expert, or even mildly knowledgeable of mental illness. However, I have had seen how it can affect firefighters and non-firefighters in their lives.

Probably one of the biggest things I have learned over the years is this: I used to think that suicide was a cop-out, cowardly, selfish. I do not think that way anymore. I have seen and learned enough to know that mental illness is serious and that people who suffer from mental illness need help whether they know it or not.

What the fire service needs to know is when and where to get help…either for themselves or for others. It is OK to get help!

Here are some resources for the fire service to utilize if you or someone else needs help: 

Here are some articles to read from the fire service related to mental illness:

Below is information on what mental illness is and what are some symptoms of mental illness. The text is from

The Mayo Clinic defines mental illness as:

Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.

Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function.

A mental illness can make you miserable and can cause problems in your daily life, such as at work or in relationships. In most cases, symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and counseling (psychotherapy). Source

Below are some symptoms of mental illness:

Signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary, depending on the particular disorder, circumstances and other factors. Mental illness symptoms can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviors.

Examples of signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Sex drive changes
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Suicidal thinking

Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headache, or other unexplained aches and pains. Source


Comments - Add Yours

  • sharppointy1

    Rhett, as a psychiatric nurse, I want to thank you for bringing this topic up again. I have applauded Capt. Wines’ openness since his brother’s suicide, and his own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts.
    I agree with Willie that specialized support for firefighters and EMS is ideal, but I want to tell everyone out there that in an emergency your local psychiatric hospital can be your life line and sanctuary. I know Willie’s experience in the hospital wasn’t ideal, but the hospital can be a safe place while you get contact organized from one of the FF related agencies.
    I am not a FF, but I have been an ER nurse, so I’ve had a tiny taste of what you guys have seen. My heart is large, and I listen. That’s what you need in the crisis stage, some place and some people who are safe and will listen to you.
    I hope that FF’s and EMS folks will learn to seek out help early, before the crisis. But if they haven’t, and the siren songs of “everyone will be better off if I’m gone” or “I cannot live with this pain one minute longer” start ringing in your head, PLEASE call a crisis line. Come to the hospital. We understand, we are desperate to help you. We need you to live.

  • Ukfbbuff

    Hi Rhett from California

    Yes, thanks for discussing this issue.

    There are several groups that I have come across that are gathering information on this, ( Chicago and Phoenix FD’s) as they have lost members due to suicide

    The website “I Never Wanted to be A Firefighter” also discusses this topic.

    Author Joseph Wambaugh (former Los Angeles Police Officer) also wrote about this topic in several of his characters and were part of either the story lines in the movies or TV programs based on his books. (TV “Police Story” Movies, “The New Centurions and ‘ The Glitter Dome'”.

    Hope Capt. Wines is doing well.

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