A black and white photo of the cropped front of fire truck. It says "Cherry Point" on it and has a moustache decal
"Our first responders are on the frontline each day and we owe so much to them."Image by: Cherry Point FD
A black and white photo of the cropped front of fire truck. It says "Cherry Point" on it and has a moustache decal
31 October 2023

Movember-funded project tackles suicide among US firefighters

3 minutes read time

A Movember-funded program is training US firefighters to spot the symptoms of stress and poor mental health in themselves and their colleagues in a bid to reduce the numbers lost to suicide.

The Stress First Aid (SFA) program is aimed at tackling stress in firefighters and EMS personnel to help to restore their mental wellbeing. It enables firefighters to build on their strengths, support each other and gives them a strong sense of purpose.

There is growing evidence that first responders - firefighters, paramedics, and police officers - and military veterans are at increased risk of poor mental health and suicide as they are exposed to both a high degree of workplace stress and traumatic events.

Repeated exposure to traumatic events can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions, including depression.

A study, published in 2022, investigating the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mental ill health among career firefighters in the US, revealed that nearly 7% met the criteria for being in the range of concern for PTSD, and among those, 87% screened positive for at least one other mental health condition.

Although many programs aiming to support emergency service workers exist, a 2019 report commissioned by Movember, found a lack of publicly available evidence showing the effectiveness of such programs.

In response, Movember launched the Veterans and First Responders Mental Health Grant Program in September 2020. The aim was to identify promising mental health or suicide prevention programs and demonstrate their effectiveness through rigorous program evaluation.

The SFA program is one of 15 projects from around the globe that received funding through the Veterans and First Responders Mental Health Grant Program. The initiative is a collaboration between Movember and The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride.

The project has been delivered by The First Responder Center for Excellence for Reducing Occupational Illness, Injuries and Deaths (FRCE), an organization which is affiliated to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, since 2016.

SFA is an online program that uses a step continuum model to improve recovery from stress reactions in oneself and coworkers as first responders.SFA emphasizes the importance of supporting and validating friendship, mentorship, leadership actions in identifying and addressing early signs of stress.The goal is to reduce the likelihood of stress outcomes developing into more severe or long-term problems.

Through Movember’s funding, the FRCE will expand upon this initial success by developing more accessible digital tools and updated content to help firefighters identify and address suicidal ideation in their colleagues and provide them with psychological peer support.

It is estimated that approximately 1.3 million firefighters serve US communities, the majority of whom are volunteers. Budgets and resources for small local fire departments are often very tightly constrained, so one major aim of this project is to expand the adoption of this program across the US to enable more firefighters to benefit from it.

Greg Oliva, Community Development Manager for Movember said: “Our first responders are on the frontline each day and we owe so much to them. Through this initiative, Movember wants to help our grant funding partners prove that their programs are positively impacting mental health outcomes. We want to build programs that enable these men live happier, healthier, longer lives.”

The First Responder Center for Excellence's Program Manager, Gary Krichbaum said: "The funding provided by Movember enables the FRCE to evaluate the impact of our Stress First Aid program. It allows us to provide invaluable stress management resources to those who selflessly protect our communities daily. Thanks to your support we are creating mentally stronger and more resilient emergency responders”

Interested in signing up for the Stress First Aid program? Learn more about the First Responder Center for Excellence.