It’s hard to watch a loved one struggle with their emotions and mental health. If you are fighting more, feel that they aren’t being as attentive or loving as they used to be, or have noticed they are drinking or using substances to cope it may cause you to question what is going on and what can be done to fix this situation
As the partner or family member of a first responder you may be aware that mental health conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and alcohol-use disorders are a higher risk. Suspecting that your loved one may be battling these conditions can leave you with all sorts of questions and concerns.
It is a good idea to understand why they may have got to this point without accessing the help that is available to them.
SOMETHING MAY BE BLOCKING HELP-SEEKING
There are many reasons why your loved one may not seek help even though you think it is obvious they need it:
- Stigma – they may fear what others will think of them, what this means for their job and how those around them will react.
- Self-stigma – they feel shame, guilt or like a burden for needing help, maybe they feel like they can muscle through it or that it is just a phase that they can wait out.
- Poor mental health literacy – often first responders don’t recognise that their behaviour has changed or that they are even showing symptoms. This might seem odd to you but many first responders who find themselves in this position have been doing their job for many years and they have gradually changed over that period without necessarily realising it.
- Stories – they may have heard stories about what happened to others in a similar situation to them, unfortunately the stories about what goes wrong are shared more often than when it goes right. You would be surprised how many people recover and go on to lead positive lives when they get help early and receive evidence-based treatment with a treater they trust.
- They tried and it didn’t work out – it is also possible that they have tried to get help before and didn’t receive the help they needed. Clinicians are as individual as we are and sometimes, we just don’t connect with them, sometimes it takes a few goes to find the right one. This can be difficult, but the perseverance is worth it.
TALK WITH THEM
It can be daunting to approach your partner with concerns about their mental health but there are some steps you can take to make the conversation more successful.
What we know from the past is that some first responders only seek help after a family member or close friend mentions they should get help. Talking with your loved one is especially influential when done early, in a calm and considered way. Here are the top tips:
- Pick your time and location carefully
You want this to be a private conversation where you can listen to each other and talk openly. Choose a time when you are both calm and have the time to discuss the topic properly. Importantly, avoid bringing it up during an argument. If you bring it up at a time when they are angry or their mind is elsewhere, they may brush it off as something you are just saying the heat of the moment rather than something to actively consider.
- Pick your language carefully
Avoid stigmatising language, which can make the situation worse. If they are aware they need help they may already feel scared, guilt or shame and if they aren’t aware they need help then they may try to further prove they don’t and their behaviour may worsen.
- Be prepared to hear some things you may find confronting
Often first responders will withhold information about their day and how they are coping with the job to protect their partners and family members. This can mean that after years in the job, when this conversation does happen, you may gain some insights you hadn’t bargained for and find yourself thinking, “I knew it would be bad but not that bad”.
- Be supportive and patient
Support is one of the most important elements in mental health and if they know you are there for them, it can make all the difference. Remind your partner that you are a team and that you will tackle this new challenge together.
- Try to stay positive
Treatments for mental health conditions have improved in leaps and bounds and with more clinicians than ever who are trained in evidence-based treatments, there is a reason to be hopeful that the situation you and your partner are in will improve.
Your partner may take some time to come around to the idea of getting help. All you can do in the meantime is remain supportive and patient.