Ep. 10Off-Season Struggles—Understanding Wildland Firefighter Mental Health

Wildland firefighters are disproportionately affected by depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicide and other mental health struggles. There are a number of reasons for this, but the biggest are quite simple: wildland firefighting is a high-stress job that takes firefighters away from their families for months at a time and often doesn’t come with appropriate pay or benefits given the sacrifices that these folks make every summer. With that lack of benefits comes a severe lack of mental health resources and care for laid-off firefighters, resulting in something of a mental health epidemic for a seasonal workforce that grows more essential—and more exhausted—by the year.

This episode dives into what these struggles look like from the perspective of currently laid-off seasonal firefighters, who each spoke about their individual challenges with mental health and wellness in their off seasons. Firefighters included in this episode: Ben McLane (hotshot), Coleman Wilson (handcrew member), Gabby Casper (rappeller), Eddie Klemencic (hotshot), Kat Sullivan (hotshot) and Livi Hughes (British Columbia Fire Service crewmember).

Links and Shownotes

As promised in the episode, here are a few resources for wildland firefighters who are struggling with mental health challenges this off-season.

  1. Wildland Firefighter Foundation. This organization provides emotional and financial support and assistance for wildland firefighters injured on the line, and also facilitates mental health support. The website above is a landing page for a variety of other mental health resources for firefighters. Eric Marsh Foundation also offers support for wildland firefighters.
  2. Your crew! Call up your crewmembers from last summer and check in on them. It’s nice to talk to people who know the business and who understand what you’re going through on a more personal level.
  3. Wildland Firefighter Guardian Institute. This organization covers mental health resources (including therapy and counseling!) at no cost to wildland firefighters.
  4. Online therapy—lots of options, but BetterHelp is a highly recommended (and decently affordable) one.
  5. For military veterans: You local VA Center (not hospital) can provide mental health treatment. More info here.

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