There has been substantial progress in how the medical community and people in general view mental health issues. Even so, stigma and fear of stigmatization continue to be barriers. Collectively, of course, we now know that one in five people will suffer clinical depression at some point during their lives—and the number is significantly higher among first responders.
Unfortunately, many first responders who need mental health treatment choose not to get it out of fear they might lose their job. First responders are at higher risk for substance abuse and mental health issues because of the chronic high stress associated with their work. Because of this, many first responder unions are stepping up to confront the stigma of mental health head-on, working to ensure that employees do not face negative consequences after seeking treatment.
Unions are advocates of employees, and first responder unions are particularly strong in their fight for robust worker protections. Today, first responders and other types of workers with union protections know that they have a right to obtain the healthcare they need, including mental health treatments; and yet, many still hesitate to take time and rely on their medical benefits to get this care. They continue to fear that their condition will somehow negatively impact their job security, their chances for promotion, or their work relationships.
Unions have the job of negotiating with employers on behalf of employees’ health and best interests. Anyone can experience mental health symptoms, after all, depending on the circumstances. Two keys to a successful comeback are: getting timely treatment and the reassurance that your job will be waiting for you. Union membership enables these things.
The Importance of Mental Health Care
There are many mental health disorders that affect first responders as well as people in general. Common issues include generalized anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders, eating disorders, and others. These conditions may either be temporary or something that must be managed across one’s life. However, without treatment, even a temporary condition is likely to worsen and could become serious and even life-threatening.
Mental health disorders cause a great deal of anguish and emotional upheaval that can impact your personal and professional life. Timely treatment is critical. The sooner the individual gets help managing their condition, the sooner they can gain relief and prevent their symptoms from affecting other important aspects of their life.
First responders or anyone else suffering from a mental health condition should also keep in mind that their mental health is connected to their physical health. Constantly contending with issues of anxiety or depression wears a person down in mind and body to the point that even their immune system begins to be affected. The links between mental and physical health are well-established. Stress alone is linked to heart disease and other conditions. By managing mental health symptoms, individuals can better protect their overall wellbeing.
How Unions Protect Behavioral Health Care
Unions have worked hard over the past decades to win important protections for workers that include behavioral health care. The fact is, for much of the last century healthcare benefits didn’t always include mental health care. That meant that not only did workers risk facing a stigma for getting help with their condition, but they often had to pay out of pocket for treatment. That has changed today. First responders do have robust benefits packages that include behavioral health care.
In order to advocate for one another, unions have collectively placed pressure on the government to create national strategies for mental health care access and protections. They also put pressure on employers to address the stigma associated with mental health conditions. Workshops, conferences, and policies help to demonstrate the importance of mental health care. Unions have demonstrated that employers have an important stake in supporting their employees, whether they’re suffering from a workplace injury or a mental health condition.
Of course, unions advocate for their members in all sorts of ways. But mental health continues to dominate the national conversation when it comes to health care, even in the wake of COVID. In many parts of the country, there has been an increase in depression, addiction, suicide, and violence. The need for improved mental health care is ever-present, and unions are poised to address this need for the sake of their members.
Union Relationships and How They Support Members
Living with a mental illness can feel lonely and isolating. That’s often the nature of the condition. However, having the option to turn to your union for support and guidance can make a tremendous difference for first responders. Unions have worked to create relationships and networks designed to support their members. Simply by reaching out to your union, you can tap into this support to get the help you need.
It’s also important to note that unions have to operate with workplace safety and their own liabilities in mind. To that end, they must carefully vet their sources before making referrals. So, when you contact your union for a referral, you can enjoy more peace of mind, knowing that they have investigated and evaluated those sources before referring members to them. Unions may also search for providers who specialize in care for first responders. While some employees may prefer to seek treatment on their own, they can rely on their union for reliable support without negative repercussions.
How to Reach Out for Help from a Union Representative
As a union member, you should have a resource that provides you with contact information for union representatives. Often, representatives will be associated with a certain range of services. You’ll want to connect with a rep who is affiliated with healthcare referrals. If you aren’t sure who that is, you can ask a union officer to help you locate the ideal rep for your needs. You don’t have to disclose your symptoms. You can simply request to speak with a representative who has information about health protections, benefits, and referrals.
It’s scary to suffer from a mental health disorder and still get up daily to go to work. The fact is, without treatment, there may come a day when the condition becomes too debilitating to manage those daily responsibilities. Don’t wait for that day to happen and keep suffering in silence. Today, mental health care treatment and therapies are highly effective for condition management. Even very severe conditions can be successfully managed in many cases.
If you are suffering from a mental health condition and are a first responder, you can turn to FHE Health for treatment and support. As mental health specialists, we customize care to meet each client’s needs and employ the most innovative and effective treatments for mental and mood disorders. Visit us for an evaluation. Let us help you get your mental health and well-being back on track.