For Vicky Shakesby, a Group Manager with Humberside FRS, encouraging her colleagues to get in touch with us if they need a helping hand is incredibly important to her. Here she explains why…

Firefighters, to many of us, are heroes – they’re there when we need them, protecting us at the darkest of times. But they’re also human beings who sometimes need support themselves, and that’s something Vicky Shakesby says is particularly important to her.

Vicky, 49, a Group Manager with Humberside Fire and Rescue Service, began facing challenges with her mental health a few years ago, but tried to hide it at the time and put on a façade – particularly at work.

However, she says once she took the first step to ask for help from us, it was the best thing she could have done – and she’s now encouraging as many of her colleagues as she can to do the same if they ever need support.

Through her experience, she’s also seen first-hand the difference your donations make, and is asking anyone reading her story to donate what they can, when they can, in the hopes it will help someone just like her.

“I got in touch with you in 2016,” says Vicky. “I’d been through a period of mental health issues and my line manager suggested I get in touch.

Donate now to help more people like Vicky

“I’d never thought about going before, especially not for my mental health, I’d wrongfully associated The Fire Fighters Charity with physical injuries.”

Vicky was offered a stay at Jubilee House, our centre in Cumbria, and says the holistic approach to support that we offer beneficiaries, which is all thanks to donations from supporters like you, proved exactly what she needed.

“I went down with some trepidation, not knowing what to expect,” she adds. “When you’re living with mental health issues, you’re not in the best frame of mind to be going anywhere, but actually going away from home, leaving some of the issues at home, and going to the Charity was the best decision I ever made.

“There were lots of group sessions and quite a few physical activities which I wasn’t expecting but really helped, alongside the mental health support.

“It was nothing that I expected and made me open up far more than I expected to.

“I wholeheartedly threw myself into it and within my time there I was coming home fresher, my mind cleared a little… there’s lots of work to do after, it’s only part of the journey, but I’d recommend anyone find out about it.

“The staff there are absolutely phenomenal too, they’re brilliant.”

Vicky has since made it her mission to spread the word round her service, to encourage any of her colleagues to get in touch as early as possible if they feel like they’d benefit from support.

“It’s just starting that process,” says Vicky. “I think mental health issues are so difficult to predict. Being a firefighter, a lot of stuff that comes up tends to build. You might still feel fine and then there might be a trigger, something completely unrelated.

“Because we are a family-orientated organisation, we’re much more in tune now talking to each other. Ask, ask and ask again.

“From an external point of view, we go to all the incidents, we turn up, we rescue everybody, so some of the issues that we have – or me particularly had – were being blocked. I was putting on a façade, doing everything as normal and saying ‘I’m fine’. Ultimately, these things build up and something triggers them in the end.

“We’re really supportive as a fire family, but sometimes you just need that extra help from wherever you can get it, and The Fire Fighters Charity is absolutely the place to go for it.”

She adds: “As a manager in the fire service, I try to highlight issues as early as possible with an intervention, and the Charity is a go-to for us.

“The point where you recognise a colleague is in crisis, yes that is a stage to do it, but let’s get it earlier than that. Let’s get it right at the start of the conversation. Somebody maybe changes their behaviour slightly and you can start those conversations.

“There’s lots of ways, as firefighters, that we react to personal stress or stress in the job, and we’re all human. We’re not superhuman or superheroes like some think we are. We’re flesh and blood and your brain can only cope with so much.”

None of the support we offer people like Vicky and her colleagues would be possible without donations from our loyal supporters, however, and that’s something Vicky is very aware of.

“If you don’t already donate to the Charity, you have the opportunity to donate either by direct debit or a gift or anything,” she says.

“You find, once you’ve been there, you do that automatically. You want to give, you want to be able to give as much as you can to the people that are there for us.

“It may only be 6, 10, 12, however much you can pay, but the difference that the accumulation of that money makes for the Charity could mean so much to that individual that’s going back on the run, getting back out into the community and goes on to save someone’s life. It’s massive.”

If you’re struggling with your health and wellbeing, we may be able to help you. Call our Support Line on 0800 389 8820, make an enquiry online or register for MyFFC now and visit the ‘Access Support’ tab at the top of the MyFFC homepage.

You can also join our ‘Share Your Story’ Group in MyFFC, by clicking on the ‘Groups’ tab, to chat to others who have received our support or enquire about sharing your own story.