If there is no wind, row. (Latin Proverb)
It sure is nice when there is wind, but when there isn’t we have two choices. Sit dead in the water and await our fate hoping for another wind or choose to row.
The number of ways this proverb relates to First H.E.L.P. is so numerous that I could list multiple pages of examples where the choice was made to row. Being told no, or not being told anything at all was the normal response when we asked for guidance, donations, and partnerships. We quickly decided we weren’t going to sit by and see what happens, we were going to make the effort and paddle. Sometimes this was upstream or through rapids, and we tipped the boat over a time or two. I have found that the times we most often had to row were the most inopportune as we were already outside our comfort zone and tired, but it was that effort that paid off the most.
For many first responders the discussion of our own mental health is outside our comfort zone and there is little or no wind pushing us in that direction. Time to row. If you are new to the career field, you can do it better than my generation did. Some of us are just now learning to take care of our mental health already dealing with the operational stress injuries of twenty plus years of service. You should start right now and make the effort to treat your mental health as being just as important as your physical health.
Supervisors should be rowing to protect their people. We can teach them that it can be done and how to do it. I find it troubling that I hear agency leaders tell their subordinates how important their safety is and how they need to be careful on the job, but are only referring to physical safety. Operational Stress Injuries are more likely to take a first responders career, family, and life than any other threat in the field. I realize many people in supervisory roles came up in a time when mental health wasn’t spoken about within the profession, but just like we change tactics and skills as we learn to do it better, it is time to change our approach to mental health.
I have people who know me really well wonder why I still fight the battle for a culture change in the first responder community. My only explanation is that I have seen the families when the wind has stopped for them following a first responder suicide choose to row. Often they did it without the support of the agency that their loved one worked for because of the stigma associated with suicide. They did it without the assistance of national organizations who help families following traditional line of duty death, because they don’t consider suicide. First H.E.L.P. is here to make sure the families don’t have to row alone. Certainly, I am in no way suggesting we can row for them, but if we can just guide them toward a place they can rest, maybe it will make a difference.
First H.E.L.P. CEO