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Philly firefighters are revolutionizing mental health services and breaking stigmas along the way

Philadelphia firefighters are breaking down stigmas, igniting mental health revolution
Philadelphia firefighters are breaking down stigmas, igniting mental health revolution 02:19

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Firefighters endure a lot of trauma but according to experts, dealing with the resulting mental health issues is often ignored. Firefighters said talking about emotions isn't something they're trained to do but the Philadelphia Fire Department is making that easier now.

Philly firefighter Bill Dischinger said 16 years of being on the front lines became overwhelming.

"My drinking had gotten out of control because of the trauma," Dischinger said. "And my marriage was a mess because on the inside I was dying because I didn't talk about anything."

Most firefighters will admit they know how to save lives and fight flames but they often struggle with their mental health.

The International Association of Firefighters said 92% of firefighters said stigma is a barrier to seeking behavioral health treatment.

"I was fearful of how I would be perceived by my peers and I was fearful of my reputation being ruined," Dischinger said.

"It really really bothered me for a period of time," Battalion Chief Thomas Kane said. 

Kane said the smoke has now lifted on addressing mental health issues in the department.

"We do have resources. We do have avenues to get you to those resources," Kane said.

"We developed this umbrella program," Michael Yeager, retired battalion chief said.

Yeager is the peer coordinator for Local 2. He was instrumental in developing mental health services for the firefighters.

"Our goal, through the union, is that we don't want anybody in the department to say, 'I don't have anyone to call,'" Yeager said.

Peers are available and so are a variety of concealing programs designed by firefighters for their comrades.

"I think it's really necessary because we go through a lot of stuff," Dischinger said. "We're not really taught how to deal with our feelings and our emotions when we go through some of these traumatic things."

Dischinger said he finally got the therapy he needed and his life back.

"The stigma is changing in our world that it's okay to ask for help. It's okay to not be okay," Dischinger said.

Dischinger said the hardest part of his journey to recovery was asking for help but it saved his life.

The fire department said increased wellness for its members means increased safety for everyone in Philadelphia.

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