I recently wrote this paper for my college English Composition class and I thought I would share it with you all. I received an A on the paper. This is something that I think needs to be made more aware to people. It is a growing problem in the healthcare profession.
“Earlier Than Too Late: Stopping Stress and Suicide Among Emergency Personnel”
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicide is a growing problem in the United States among EMS (Emergency Medical Service Service) providers. In 2014 there were 58 documented suicides by Fire/EMS personnel, but sources tracking these statistics believe that is only a fraction of the actual suicides. The Chicago Fire Department reported seven suicides in 18 months from 2008-2009, and four in 5 months in 2010. A 2012 report from the Chicago FD’s IAFF Local 2 counted 41 suicides of active and retired members between 1990–2010 and concluded its members had a suicide risk 25 times that of the wider population.
Why do so many people who spend their lives helping others end up committing suicide? Many experts believe the horrors that responders see on a daily basis begin to take their toll. That coupled with the physical/psychological stresses, and also the problems that are caused at home by the demands of the job are all contributing factors. Lack of sleep, exercise, and poor nutrition have also been found to add to the problem.
PTSD puts many responders at a higher risk of suicide. Many experts have associated PTSD more commonly with members of the Armed Forces, or those who suffer from domestic violence, but why not to responders? Take the 9/11 responders for instance. That tragic day ended many innocent lives, but it also had long lasting effects to the various responders that survived the attack. Images of the carnage they witnessed are forever burnt into their minds. And with no way of coping with stressors of that incident, many have turned to unhealthy avenues deal with their emotions. Drugs, alcohol, and ultimately suicide for those who aren’t able to find respite.
What can be done to help those responders? There are several resources available to them, but the most popular would be CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management). There are mental health professionals that are specifically trained to help responders deal with their emotions. Many departments across the country require a CISM session after a critical incident. This can range from an informal group meeting to discuss their emotions to one on one counseling sessions. Emphasizing the importance of proper diet and exercise can also help alleviate the stressors of the job as well as a strong support system. Many people in the EMS field feel that no one truly understands what they are going through, and that leaves them feeling alone with no hope of resolve.
I have been a paramedic for nearly twenty years, and I have dealt with a wide range of emotions in my career. I have responded to thousands upon thousands of calls over the years. Some had a positive outcome, but others did not. Have I ever had bouts of depression or thoughts of suicide? Depression yes, but not suicide. I have spent my career trying to help others in their time of need, and each call has left a mark within me. I can be driving down the road, or walking through a store, and a smell or sound will trigger a memory from a call that I have responded to.
There are a wide variety of resources that are not utilized. I personally believe that responders do not ask for the help they need out of fear of being thought of as weak. We think we should be able to handle anything that is thrown our way. But what many responders fail to realize that is even though we are trained to be at the top of our game in the most stressful situations dealing with life and death we are still human beings. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when we need it, and I wish more responders would do it. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.