Fighting fires and tackling depression - Sam's story
As part of Mental Health Awareness week, Sam, an on-call firefighter at Wivenhoe, has agreed to share his story publicly. If you are affected by any issues raised within this story, please see the links at the end of the article.
“As firefighters, we’re often seen as people who are strong and macho above all else. People think we just turn up to incidents and it doesn’t seem to affect us, because of that. Of course, that’s not the case.”
As well as fighting fires, Sam also fights what he describes as his ‘own worst enemy’ on a daily basis – depression.
Sam was diagnosed with depression at the age of 15. Now a 26-year-old personal trainer as well as an on-call firefighter, Sam wants to highlight that even firefighters – despite the bravado stereotype – can suffer from mental illnesses.
“I posted on social media about how I’d considered committing suicide when I was at university and I got such a huge response that I wanted to build on it. For me, mental health is such a serious thing that doesn’t get talked about enough because of the stigma attached to it.
“I’ve been a firefighter for three years now and the Service has been there for me every step of the way and done everything they can. Initially I shared my experiences with my Station Managers and they were great; one handed out his personal number and told me to call him if ever I needed him… no matter what the issue was.”
Sam points to the support of the Service and those working around him as vital to his wellbeing – particularly his own crew at Wivenhoe and those based at nearby Colchester Fire Station.
“Even though we’re on-call, we’re such a close-knit station. We go out and do stuff together all the time, like meals and quizzes. Getting involved with community events like the car wash are just more opportunities for us to come together.
“The firefighters at Colchester have gone well beyond the call of duty to do what they can to help me, too. Whenever we’re here or at Colchester on standby, the guys who are aware of it always make that effort to make a cup of tea or ask how I am when we’re at an incident.”
And, despite the difficult nature of some of those incidents, he says he actually finds himself at peace while working as a firefighter – in fact, it’s during downtime where his mind can make things difficult.
“The majority of the time while I’m on station, I’m at ease. It’s strange, but when we turn up to a job, I switch off and go into a mode where I don’t think about the affect things might have on me – I’m there to help those who need it.
“I seem to thrive on it. I’m often most affected when we have a quiet period on station – I’m my own worst enemy and when we have that down time, that’s when my mind starts to go into overdrive.
“Depression causes you to think negative thoughts about yourself and overthink your flaws, which puts you in a negative spiral. As soon as you add anxiety, you genuinely start to believe that everyone else sees those flaws and that they’re talking behind your back.
“Then you overthink the smallest of things and start to create distance between people where there’s no reason for it – sometimes for me that could mean our own crew.”
Sam found himself in an emotionally and financially challenging position two years ago when he and his girlfriend ended their long-term relationship.
Sam opted initially to use the Service’s own support resources, including an external company that offers counsellors at the end of a phone, 24/7.
“That can be really helpful, to know that there’s always someone there to speak to. In the end, I went down the private counselling route. I took the time to find one that met my needs and at a price that I was comfortable with.”
And while Sam encourages others not to rule out counselling as a pathway to receiving help, he also points to simply opening up to those around you as the crucial first step.
“I want to help spread the message that we all sometimes have issues that we need to talk about. As firefighters we should be able to say ‘look, I’m not dealing with this terribly well and I could use some help’.
“The key thing is to not be afraid to be honest – it isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength.”
Affected by issues in this article?
If you feel suicidal or are considering harming yourself or other people - call 999 or go to your nearest Accident and Emergency department (A&E).
Mind Blue Light Infoline is dedicated to all blue light emergency services staff and their families, it’s available Monday – Friday, 9-6pm. Simply call 0300 303 5999.
SANEline. SANEline offers emotional support and information from 6pm–11pm, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0300 304 7000.
CALM. If you're a man experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They're open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58, and they also have a webchat service if you're not comfortable talking on the phone.
Switchboard, the LGBT+ helpline. If you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, Switchboard is available from 10am–11pm, 365 days a year, to listen to any problems you're having. Phone operators all identify as LGBT+. Their national number is 0300 330 0630, or you can email email@example.com.