Millions of Americans deal with depression in some form or another, but can you be a firefighter with depression? It’s a good question, and more common than you may realize.
Some suffer from seasonal depression or have mild bouts that are well under control. Others have deeper issues with chronic depression, bipolar or PTSD. So, what does this mean if you want to be a firefighter?
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Can I be a firefighter with depression?
There is no black and white, yes or no answer here as this is largely dependent on the severity of your condition. A large part of the decision to hire you will depend on your disorder, its impact on your work and personality, department policies, medications and whether or not it is controlled.
The same is true for bipolar and PTSD. However, you can take some encouragement from the fact that all departments should treat you as an individual and that attitudes to firefighter depression are changing. It’s important to be honest during your firefighter medical exam.
In this article, I want to look at the issue of depression in the fire service from a few different angles. First of all, I want to talk about your chance of getting hired as a firefighter if you currently suffer from depression.
Then I want to talk about the awareness of fire departments for the risk of developing depression on the job. There are links between the two that need to be considered when applying for a job in the fire service.
I will also talk a little about bipolar disorder and the fire service. Then I want to talk about the issue of PTSD in the fire service.
This is a big topic in the fire service today. So much so that the IAFF have created a center specifically to help those struggling with PTSD and other mental health issues.
Firefighter applicants with depression
Let’s start with the issue of applying for work with a fire department if you are already diagnosed with depression. There is a list of criteria that physicians work with to determine whether a candidate can handle the job.
There is a long list of disqualifying medical conditions that would have a detrimental impact on the applicant’s ability to perform their task. Depression is not on that list.
However, if you look, you will find that there isn’t much talk of mental illness at all.
Many departments will offer a psychological examination in addition the firefighter interview to determine the character and mindset of candidates.
This could be a way to discuss the impact of your mental health disorder on your mood, ability to work with others and other aspects of your life. Also, your medical examination should factor in medical history.
Therefore, there is plenty of opportunities to inform the department about your depression and any other related issues if you feel compelled to do so.
Is your condition under control?
If you are taking medication and can function with your depression, there is a good chance that the department will find that you are still a suitable candidate.
It is all about how the condition affects your attitude to the job and if there might be any issues of you being reliable on a call. Those assessing candidates will also consider the potential issues with the medication.
Will any medication affect your ability to carry out your job to the same standard as everyone else?
Also, do you take, or have you ever taken, medicinal marijuana to help with the condition? This could have an impact on your chances because of the department drug policies.
The good news here is that most departments should handle applications of people with mental health issues like depression on a case by case basis.
They know to look at the individual and their needs, strengths and limitations rather than to lump all patients with depression under one label.
The bad news is that attitudes can vary between departments. Some can be understanding and lenient with educated physicians that will offer the best support and assessment possible.
Others may be wary of hiring people with a mental health condition because of their own outdated views. They may focus too strongly on the negative risks than the additional skills that the candidate will offer.
Can I be a firefighter if I’m bipolar?
The same is true for anyone that has bipolar disorder. Candidates with the disorder must be honest about their illness, its effects and the medication they take. It is also important to tell physicians if you have been hospitalized for the condition in the past – either voluntarily or involuntarily.
Support is on the rise for firefighters that develop depression on the job.
Many departments are becoming much more open to the idea of providing help and support wherever possible to those in need. There are calls to end the stigma once and for all that firefighters have to be tough all the time and can’t deal with their feelings or talk to people.
Firefighters need this form of open-minded outlet both on and off duty to protect their mental health. This openness is good news for those that already have depression and bipolar because it means that departments should become more open to accepting those with current mental health issues.
However, this does all lead to an additional warning to all those considering applying. You need to be aware of the risks to mental health and the rates of depression in the fire service.
You need to appreciate that many firefighters struggle with what they see on a daily basis. Even if you are currently in a state where your condition is under control, could this role prove to be too much?
Or, could your experiences with mental health and your current outlook actually prove to be an asset within the department?
These are all questions to consider during the hiring process. How can you use your experience and the way you handle your mental health as a reason to aid the crew? Can you present depression as a positive rather than a negative?
Can I be a firefighter if I have PTSD?
Finally, I want to talk about PTSD. This is an important related topic because many firefighters develop the disorder because of the horrific things they experience.
This is worth considering if your mental health isn’t in the strongest state, to begin with. Rates are rising, and support is developing; however, there are still many firefighters that take their own lives when it all gets too much.
But then, there is the flip-side to the issue of PTSD in the fire service. Departments are eager to bring in veterans that have been honorably discharged from military service. They will even offer preference points and increased the maximum age at the point of hiring.
This means hiring veterans that may have a history of PTSD already. Again, it all depends on the individual and their condition.
What are your triggers? Are you likely to experience them in this role or are they unrelated? Are you taking medication that keeps the condition under control?
The answers to these questions during the hiring process will make a big difference. If you can assure the department that the condition isn’t an issue, then you should be OK.