But who is there to save us?
First Responders are generally very good at putting on brave faces. We answer the call for help when someone is at their worst, in pain and scared, and we let our patients know that they are in good hands and that we will do everything we possibly can for them.
But inside, we’re just as terrified as our patients except we won’t admit to that, not to ourselves, not to our coworkers, and certainly not to our patients. If we are lucky we get to deliver our patients to capable hands at the hospital (and don’t let them fool you, those doctors and nurses are also scared). Sometimes we watch as tragedy unfolds before us when we are the ones shouldering the responsibility.
It takes a toll. EMTs, Paramedics, First Responders in general, and even the afore mentioned medical professionals in the hospitals have a high rate of depression, substance abuse, PTSD, and suicide — it’s a human reaction to seeing trauma and tragedy, it’s the frustration at trying your damnedest and still not getting the result you want. And while not all calls are tragic (thankfully), there are those calls that stay with a provider, calls that haunt, and calls that make us second guess our every decision.
In 2014 a few Washington State based EMS professionals talked about some fellow responders who committed suicide; there seemed to be a high rate within the EMS community. No one was really talking about it and that didn’t help others who were reluctant to admit to their demons. They started a project called the "Code Green Campaign" to shine light on this frightening statistic, to allow others to know they were not alone or weak for feeling despair, and to help encourage anyone who needed to seek mental health support. Since each state may have different plans in place, such as Workman’s Comp and license preservation (to not permanently lose one’s livelihood while getting help), there is more than just ego that can prevent someone from asking for help.
While there have been Critical Incident Stress Debriefing teams available for First Responders for decades, it hasn’t always been utilized. Some supervisors, even if they are sensitive to their crews’ emotions and exposure to trauma, are not aware of the full potential impact of each call. There are also times when even a minor incident can stir up post-traumatic-stress-disorder and this may go undetected even while the individual suffers. And so often, especially in group CISD discussions, everyone seems to be wearing a figurative brave mask, and in the end, few actually benefit from the counseling.
The mission of the Code Green Campaign is to “bring awareness to the high rates of mental health issues in first responders and reduce them. Eliminate the stigma that prevents people from admitting these issues and asking for help. Educate first responders on self and peer care and to advocate for systemic change in how mental health issues are addressed by first responder agencies".
It is important for every EMT, Paramedic and all First Responders to accept that he or she is a human being with very real reactions to the things they deal with every day; it is crucial to receive peer support as well. And most importantly, if help is needed, it is OKAY to ask and receive mental health support.
The Code Green Campaign website has a comprehensive list of national resources as well as state-by-state; there are also some Canadian and International resources included as well. Go to the website at http://codegreencampaign.org/resources/
Take care of yourselves, and take care of your brothers and sisters.