A Devon paramedic has spoken of having contemplated suicide on many occasions over recent years ahead of World Mental Health Day
Published by Devon LIve
To coincide with World Mental Health Day this Wednesday, October 10, a Devon paramedic has anonymously shared his story to raise awareness of the mental health struggles he and his fellow colleagues contend with on a daily basis working for the ambulance service.
Here is his story:
I have been a paramedic for just under 20 years and am in my thirties, but I feel old, and I am tired.
I have borne witness to terrible events and I have seen the worst of human suffering and tragedy. I have also brought new life into the world, met extraordinary people, saved lives against the odds and helped countless strangers.
I am not alone or unique, and I am still, after all these years, proud of my profession and full of admiration for my peers who apply and dedicate themselves equally to whatever event is put before us.
But there is something terribly wrong with the ambulance service, and many, many of us are broken, suffering, strained, and battling personal demons and significant mental health issues.
I do not believe the severity or extent of this problem is fully understood or realised, but its presence can be felt in any number of ways: the high levels of sickness caused by work related stress, the alarmingly high rate of staff turnover and the shortage of staff to replace them, divorce rates, levels of depression, and suicide.
We are told by South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust they value their staff above all else and recognise this crisis.
Its Staying Well service, peer support network, and counselling service have no doubt helped staff and, perhaps, even saved lives.
But this sticking plaster does not address why so many ambulance staff are so unhappy as to be seeking help for mental health problems?
Along with the pressure of all-consuming objective of performance based on targets of time, a culture of bullying and harassment has been publicised within the trust.
They risk their lives, bodies and mind to care for others but, in my opinion, I do not feel we always have the care or compassion of our employer, and the net effect is thousands of good people feeling hopeless and depressed.
I have personally contemplated suicide on many occasions over recent years, and sadly, and all too frequently, many of my colleagues have.
For me, it is not so much the harrowing events that I attribute this too; I accept it as part of the role I choose.
My despair comes from an overwhelming fatigue, the slow grind of being overworked, the destructive shift patterns and the toll it takes on sleep, the frequently missed family/friends events due to unsympathetic annual leave policies and the domestic disharmony caused.
The pressure to keep working when physically or mentally unwell, and most of all, the fear of recrimination for speaking up or against the bullying and harassment in the workplace.
I love my job. I care deeply for my patients, and it is a huge part of who I am. I don’t know anything else, and my skills are quite unique and alternative employment roles are a challenge.
Most people I know who give up and get out leave the health service altogether and the public lose great assets and years of honed skills and experiences.
A profession that used to be for life is now one with an expectancy of less than five years.
I stay awake most nights worrying about how I can go on, but I feel the burden of responsibility for my partner and my children.
I think about all the changes I have seen in my 20 years of exemplary and untarnished service, the year on year decline in my living standards, the erosion of my terms and conditions, the devaluing of my pension, the increase in my workload, and the massive increase in my skills, and responsibilities.
There is also the increase in my years until retirement - another 30 plus years to go - and I wonder how much more I can take, and how much lower I can go while still functioning?
It is no comfort to know that I am by no means alone in feeling this way and that many, many of my peers across all grades and job roles, are feeling exactly the same way as I do. But I’m still here, and I’m still battling on, and to look at me you would never know.
They say that with mental health the biggest challenge is recognising the need for help, and seeking it out, and I believe this to be true.
I would urge anybody out there who feels desperate and is struggling to reach out to somebody, anybody and get some help or support.
You are not alone and there really is no stigma or shame, be gentle and be kind to yourself, every single one of you is more amazing than you can know or believe.
Responding to the issues raised by the paramedic, Ken Wenman, chief executive of SWASFT said: “I absolutely recognise and acknowledge the issues that have been raised here. The welfare and mental health of all our staff is something that I and all of my senior colleagues take incredibly seriously. It is a significant part of the board’s strategic focus.
“Last year we invested over £600,000 on staff support, counselling and the dedicated Staying Well Service, which is highly thought of by staff through the annual staff survey. This year we have invested more in this service, growing the team further to ensure they are able to respond to every member of staff who requires support, while also supporting proactive initiatives to help keep staff fit and well.
“Our commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of staff and the Staying Well Service are certainly not sticking plasters. Our staff work incredibly hard in extremely difficult circumstances, attending incidents on a daily basis that hopefully most people will never experience.”
So we do recognise the considerable challenge we face in supporting our staff with their mental health and wellbeing, particularly given the many external factors, most critically relating to not having enough resources, high levels of demand and the behaviour of some members of the public who act with violence and aggression to our staff.
“We recognise the fatigue that our staff talk of and the personal impact on them and their families. We are working really hard to address all of the factors that impact on staff wellbeing. Just some examples include recruiting more frontline staff, trialling new ways of working to reduce shift overruns, securing government funding for 63 new ambulances and working with our commissioners to increase funding levels to secure the resources we need to deliver a high quality service while taking some of the pressure off of our staff.
“South Western Ambulance Trust is one of the better performing ambulance trusts in respect of all indicators reviewed annually in the national NHS staff survey, however, we are not complacent and recognise there are still improvements to be made.”
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