“If you can’t handle what you see you shouldn’t be in the job” are not uncommon words when it comes to emergency services workers, yet it is precisely this attitude that has seen research show that 1 in 3 emergency services personnel suffering from very high psychological distress.
Yes, emergency services personnel need a greater degree of resilience, but trauma will come before all our eyes throughout this life. People often say to Paramedics “you must see the worst things, I don’t know how you do it,” but trauma is an individual thing and each of our traumas are unique to us.
It’s never usually just one incident or one trauma that breaks the camel’s back, but trauma after trauma after trauma and not being able to process the carnage that begins to erode our neurons.
A physical comparison is a bit like the person that leans into a car and becomes crippled with back pain, it was not that one movement that damaged their back, but hundreds of micro tears prior to that lead to the back eventually giving way.
We must remember everything we see we never UNSEE, images and experiences are filed forever.
I can pull up hundreds of files in my 16 years with the Ambulance service and that of my personal life at any time I want. Often, it’s also times I don’t want.
Jobs that were 15 years ago are as vivid as the jobs I did yesterday and some of which were considered the least threatening to my mental health are the ones that can cause me the most harm.
The quadriplegic patient you visit, terminal cancer patients knowing all too well the trip with us is the last they will take. The cardiac arrest that takes another life, the family torn to shreds with alcohol or drug abuse.
Here’s the thing, I never want to stop feeling the sadness I feel for others or become complacent about the hurt I feel going to distressing jobs and I never want to walk away from a job and pretend it was no big deal.
That would be the end of my sanity, placing a shield up to my emotions would be the beginning to a major depressive illness. It would dehumanise me and take away the compassion for my patients who are suffering and the respect, trust and believability the public hold in me.
It is important to feel sadness at times, to cry if needed and to feel my emotions flow through me.
Yet sadness displayed publicly, especially if you are male, particularly so in the emergency services, is an unspoken sign of weakness. It highlights a concern to work colleagues that you are not coping; to some it’s even considered pathetic and that you are not fit for the job.
Because of this, so many ‘shield and soldier’ through, leaving the crying for the trip home. The problem is that in handling the trauma we see daily we think we will be ok, the reality is we never are and herein lies the danger and why research tells us that emergency personnel are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts.
This is not an issue linked to only emergency services, with suicide a significant issue across the nation, with 64,000 attempts and over 3100 lives lost last year alone.
Many of these lives lost are kids, making these statistics even more tragic and a sign that any trauma is both unique and dangerous.
I know in my line of work that I have to work twice as hard protecting and nurturing my mental and physical health which is why whenever possible you will find me on a mediation retreat, at the yoga studio, reading self-development books, out walking the beach with the dog watching a golden sunset and eating the foods that are rich in nutrition.
I am happy to share with my colleagues the work that I put into my own mental health in the hope that that through the power of self disclosure I am creating a potentially safe forum for them to speak and consider getting help for themselves.
Preparedness for a traumatic day is key to all our mental and physical health. It’s not ‘if’ a trauma comes, it’s when and how well prepared we are to deal with that event that matters.
I know from all my experiences the only person I ultimately have control over is me and if I leave this too long or believe I am ‘ten foot six’ and bullet proof I may lose that ability as well. I can’t imagine anything more frightening than losing control of yourself, but this is exactly what happens when mental health issues take hold.
My plan is to never lose that control, so I can make changes today and take action right now and direct my life anywhere I believe it should or needs to go. It’s the peaks and valleys of life scenario, we all rise to the peaks and then fall into the valleys as we traverse life and erode our mental health, but with sound investment into our physical and mental health the valleys become less, allowing more time in the peaks, a payoff of a life well lived.
By the time it has taken to write this blog 24 people in this country have just made an attempt on their life. The government of the day must continue to support all those who have landed themselves in strife and we need our prevention hats on to capture all those before us yet to fall.
Given how grave the issue of suicide has become, how mindfulness, mediation and self-control has not made it into schools yet is beyond me…