Long-time senior CFA firefighter, Glenn Harrap, shares his own challenges around mental wellbeing this R U OK? Day, hoping to help stamp out the ‘blokey’ culture around men’s mental health.
Glenn has been a part of CFA in various roles for more than 37 years and is currently a Commander of District 11, in East Gippsland.
He said he has “seen it all”.
Glenn had never really given much thought to his own mental health, however it was after the events of the 2019/20 bushfires when his own mental health began to decline that he decided it was time to tackle it head on.
Working in the Bairnsdale ICC during the fires he was handed a predictive map of where the fires would spread, and his Sarsfield family home was in the line of fire.
He said as a family they made the decision to stay and defend as they felt they were well-prepared. Thankfully, everyone survived and they were able to save the family home, however the fire impacted 16 acres of his property – destroying fencing and surrounding bushland.
After reflecting on that decision and the experience, he and his family have been strongly considering leaving the Sarsfield area to escape the bushfire risk and hopefully never endure that again.
“I never want to put my family through that again,” he said.
At the time, while the experience was frightening, Glenn didn’t think it had a serious impact on his mental health and chalked it up as being ‘another day in the life of a firefighter’.
Six months later, it was at a regional CFA mental health session that he realised he’d suffered a traumatic mental burden as a result of his work around the devastating fires, the lead up to the fire season and the impact the fires had on his property.
“During the session they showed a video of a firefighter who worked through the Marysville fires,” Glenn said.
“The firefighter said after the experience he had feelings of failure - like he had failed.
“In that moment it hit me – it was exactly how I felt; I felt I had failed myself and my family.”
Glenn left the room and a CFA peer coordinator approached him and started the conversation about how he was feeling.
“I’m lucky I was able to identify it and seek help,” he said.
“Looking back, the mental anguish I went through in the lead up to the fires was too much and I wish I’d caught it sooner.
“I’ve always had that typical ‘middle-aged man’ attitude toward mental health and tried not to show my emotions.
He said it is so important for people to understand that despite what you were taught growing up and even if you’re not comfortable with the topic of mental health, “it’s okay to not be okay”.
“If there’s one thing I’d say to any bloke out there, it is that it’s okay to drop the masculine ‘it’ll be alright’ attitude around mental health,” he said.
“You don’t have to put on a brave face.
“If you aren’t feeling yourself, reach out to someone you trust – whether it’s a family or friend, a mental health wellbeing service or the CFA Wellbeing Support Line if you’re a CFA member.
“Don’t let it get to a point where you think there isn’t a way out, there are people out there who can support you.”
Thursday, 9 September is R U OK? Day, which is a national reminder to stay connected and have conversations that can help others through difficult times
This year’s theme is ‘Are they really OK? Ask them today’, in response to research revealing 22% of Australians aren’t reaching out because they don’t think someone needs their help.
CFA acknowledges that between the damaging bushfires of 2019-20 and the pandemic, the past two years have been tough for everyone in our Victorian communities. That is why it is so important for Victorians and our CFA volunteers to stay connected and feel supported.
Those interested in learning more about R U OK? Day, visit the website at www.ruok.org.au.
If you are not okay, or if you notice a change in someone you know, CFA volunteers, staff and their families can contact the CFA Wellbeing Support Line on 1800 959 232 to access free, confidential support that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The support services include the Member Assistance Program with Psychologists and Counsellors, Peer Support Program, Chaplaincy Program, Let Me Know web-based app, as well as other services provided by the Organisational Wellbeing Team.