It’s national EMS week and I am so passionate about making everyone understand the neglect our EMS personnel face. My mom and my sister are first responders. To be more specific, my mom is an EMT and my sister is a paramedic.
In high school, my senior project was all about the Code Green Campaign. I pulled up my old paper and my power point just so I can share some facts with you all. Before I do that, though, I want you all to know that there is very little knowledge about just how much our EMS personnel suffer because reports only collect 40% of first responder suicides (Venteicher, 2017, para. 8).
If you were wondering, yes, I’ll be using citations and I’ll provide EVERY link at the end of this article for you all to read. It’s important for us to help the ones that help us on our worst days.
Unless you live with or are related to or are friends with a first responder, you probably don’t know how horrific their day to day can be. The things they see are something many of us don’t even like to thing about. My mom and sister have witnesses babies dying and they’ve heard the gut wrenching screams from a heart broken mother. They’ve even had coworkers who were also friends commit suicide. My sister has seen her firefighter friend’s bodies pulled from a house fire.
Before you say “they chose that job.” You’re absolutely right. And what a disservice we are doing by not recognizing them and taking care of them. They are there for us on our worst days. They are rushing to save our family members from dying while we allow them to suffer mentally EVERY DAY.
May I remind you that ONLY 40% of their suicides are recorded as EMS suicides. We have no true idea of how many have killed themselves due to the stress of their job and the lack of proper help provided. And you know what, they aren’t the only ones suffering. As a family member, I can say that living with an EMT and a paramedic was depressing at times. What can I say to help them stop replaying the scenes from the day or night before?
Now, I totally understand that mental health is serious everywhere and can be heartbreaking to anyone. My post today is simply focused on first responders.
Now, did you know that in 2017 there were 46 homicide-suicide cases from the first responder community (Venteicher, 2017, para. 41). Our first responders witness so much trauma that their mental health takes a serious hit and sometimes that means they’re not in the right mind and might take someone else out with them.
If we HELP our first responders, that means they will be in a better mind set which will allow them to help us more efficiently and effectively. The community as a whole will be better for it.
When I was typing my paper I read about a firefighter couldn’t save a baby. It haunted him for years until he took his own life (Brown, 2017, para. 11). I know that’s not a story about an EMT or paramedic or other EMS personnel, but they have those scenarios, too. If there was help for that firefighter, maybe he would still be with us today.
Before you tell me that there is help for them, I know. There’s not a lot, but sure, there’s help. This is where I share the Code Green Campaign with you and urge you to go to their website. It’s not a norm for first responders to seek help. It can be seen as weak. On the Code Green Campaigns website you will see stories that people shared. This allows others to relate and realize that they are NOT alone. It allows there to be a safe place for first responders to share a story with others and maybe get help. The website also provides a map that shows possible help in your location if there is any.
A quote I read that broke my heart:
“We take all the pain and loss and death and horrible things men visit upon one another, and we put those feelings in a box, so we can do our jobs. And then we slide that box out of sight under the bed, and we make jokes about the existence of the box,” (Grayson, 2014).
Now, as if the daily death and constant high stress situation wasn’t enough. Many first responders are UNDERPAID and OVERWORKED. My mom would work 18 hour shifts and get 3-4 hours of sleep in between. Many places work on 24 hour shifts. Our first responders need more pay and sleep. While, some EMS personnel actually prefer the 24 hour shifts because then they might get three days off to sleep, many are still over worked. Shift work actually disturbs the circadian rhythm and therefore can lead to diseases, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and short temper (Griffin, n.d., pg.2).
Thanks for reading, all my links are below for more information about first responder mental health. This is an especially trying time for our EMS personnel, so thank them when you can.
I also have some Code Green shirts from my senior project that I would love to sell and donate ALL the profits to the Code Green Campaign like I originally intended to. If you want one, just contact me on here, my email, Instagram, Twitter, anything is fine. I’ll try to get a picture of them on my social medias this week!
Let me throw in all the resources I used for my paper because while I didn’t use them all for this post, I think they’re all incredibly educational reads.
The Code Green website: https://codegreencampaign.org/
Brown, A. D. (2017, May 12). First Responders and Mental Health. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/towards-recovery/201705/first-responders-and-mental-health
Chai, C. (2014, July 17). Is there enough mental health support for first responders? Retrieved September 25, 2017, from https://globalnews.ca/news/1456613/is-there-enough-mental-health-support-for-first-responders/
Crawford, A. (2017, August 30). First Canada-wide study of first responders suggests much higher frequency of mental disorders. Retrieved September 26, 2017, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/police-fire-fighters-ptsd-paramedis-1.4266720
Grayson, K. (2014, May 07). True confessions of a clinically depressed medic. Retrieved September 26, 2017, from https://www.ems1.com/community-awareness/articles/1899153-True-confessions-of-a-clinically-depressed-medic/
Griffin, R. M. (n.d.). The Health Risks of Shift Work. Retrieved September 25, 2017, from http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/shift-work#2
Hoffman, E. (2017, June 09). First Responders at Elevated Risk for Mental Health Challenges. Retrieved September 28, 2017, from https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2017/06/first- uresponders-elevated-risk-mental-health-challenges/
Racht, E. (2015, March 26). AMR Flyer – When We Need Us. Retrieved September 26, 2017, from http://envision.newsweaver.com/xzo9xii81bt1b17gfcnpbs?email=true&a=11&p=495620
Reagan, L. (2017, May 23). When Helping Hurts: Trauma’s Effects on First Responders. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/when-helping-hurts-traumas-effects-on-first-responders-0212154
S. (2017, September 15). Story #17.61. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from http://codegreencampaign.org/story-17-61/
Sack, D. (2017, January 31). Trauma and First Responders: When the Helpers Need Help. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/where-science-meets-the-steps/201701/trauma-and-first-responders-when-the-helpers-need-help
uVenteicher, W. (2017, March 25). Increasing First Responder Suicide Rates Spark Concern. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/pennsylvania/articles/2017-03-25/increasing-first-responder-suicide-rates-spark-concern
Facts & Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics#