Senior Hastings firefighter Erin Tahau knows that as first responders firefighters and emergency service staff are going to more medical calls related to mental illness than they used to.
"On top of the high levels of critical incident exposure we face daily, our firefighters' psychological wellbeing is becoming compromised," Tahau said.
"We want to be proactive. You hear about firefighters committing suicide due to the psychological, emotional, physical and social stresses they face and I don't want our region to add to that statistic."
• Hawke's Bay Hundy: Firefighters create new relay event for mental health
• Hawke's Bay Hundy 100km relay fundraiser a resounding success
• Northland volunteer firefighter jailed after admitting 10 arson charges
• Premium - Editorial: Much riding on Government's response to mental health crisis
On October 8, Tahau became the overall winner of Region Te Upoko's Celebrating Success Awards for her work helping firefighter safety, health and wellbeing.
She was the driving force behind Hawke's Bay Hundy, a 100km relay fundraiser to raise awareness about mental health and fundraise for STAROS.
And she, along with fellow firefighters came up with FireFit, a wellbeing programme for firefighters at Napier and Hastings Stations which includes circuits the teams at the stations can complete, yoga and meditation and other activities where the team can talk and share and competitions to keep it social.
"We have come up with a brand called FireFit, which basically helps with the life stresses of firefighters become a bit easier to deal with.
"We go for walks in the morning, play games, get involved with the public as well. We have yoga instructors come in as well.
"FireFit has been running for a year and a half in Hawke's Bay and we are hoping to get other regions involved."
Ruakaka firefighters in New York for 9/11 memorial stair climb
So far the target group for the FireFit brand has been the 72 career firefighters in Hawke's Bay, but she is hoping to push it into the volunteer firefighting sector as well.
"It is about starting a conversation and quashing the stigma associated with mental health and that's important for career as well as volunteer firefighters.
"It's about normalising mental health and wellbeing and getting people talking."
FireFit has helped firefighters in more than one way, she said.
"It has helped their home life as well as physically, emotionally and mentally."
A report published earlier this year, "Why We 360: An investigation of psychological distress, injury, and suicide within Fire and Emergency New Zealand presented by: Senior Firefighter Joshua Darby", said firefighters were often perceived and portrayed as invulnerable heroes who could be called upon for help, but were rarely in need of help themselves.
However, the report demonstrated that despite the heroic work firefighters did, they were not impervious to psychological distress and injury, and at times required help themselves.
"Yet, a persistent culture and stigma around psychological injury within fire services is leading to firefighters not seeking help when they need it (Beyond Blue Ltd, 2018; Mind, 2016a)," the report stated.
"Jeff Dill, a counsellor and former US firefighter, noted in an interview that firefighters suffer what he calls 'cultural brainwashing', where many believe that wearing the uniform means you are to act strong, be brave, offer help, but never ask for it.
"In the same article, colleagues of Mike Mauser, a US firefighter who died by suicide, noted that it was these ideas that had led to their friend concealing his own mental health issues," the report stated.
It's exactly these issues which Tahau wants to combat in the fire and emergency services.
"As emergency service personnel we see the effects of mental health in our society on a daily basis.
"Often this constant exposure to emotional and tragic events causes our own to suffer from mental health issues as well and that's what we need to change."
WHERE TO GET HELP
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider.
However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
Or if you need to talk to someone else:
0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 ? NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202
Samaritans: 0800 726 666