Statement of purpose The purpose of this qualitative study is to explore potential risk factors, treatment barriers, and coping mechanisms that may influence mental health outcomes in Minnesota firefighters.
Methods/Approach This study employed a two-phased, sequential qualitative design consisting of in-depth interviews followed by focus group discussions with both fulltime and volunteer firefighters in Minnesota. Fifty-two interviews were conducted with open-ended questions designed to identify themes and main areas of concern about Minnesota firefighters’ mental health, then presented to focus groups (n=10, with 3–15 participants per group) to obtain feedback and initiate open discussion. Audio recordings were analyzed for codes and themes developed after each interview and focus group session.
Results The major contributor to mental health stress perceived by Minnesota firefighters involves the personal impact of the call. Coping mechanisms varied among institutions and individuals, and included Employee Assistance Programs, Critical Incident Stress Management, departmental debriefs, peer support groups, family, and exercise. However, barriers to treatment were equally as diverse, and included departmental and individual stigma, lack of personal and institutional support, and lack of knowledge about mental health.
Conclusions Our study identified potential pathways to mental health conditions in firefighters. The findings should be leveraged to improve current strategies to protect the health and well-being of firefighters.
Significance Major themes identified contribute to literature gaps regarding the perceived factors influencing psychological injuries in firefighters, in addition to the perceived barriers to treatment that would mitigate or prevent these injuries. However, the burden to each of the concepts, themes, and mental health issues are currently being assessed in a statewide survey completed by Minnesota firefighters. Study findings warrant future research to consider assessing the mental health in firefighters from other states, regionally, nationally, and globally.
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