First responders are a rare breed. They deal with tragedy everyday, and are expected to perform in the worst of circumstances. If you read this blog, you already know that. What people don’t know is that it is impossible to do the job, and not be affected. It can be a challenge compartmentalize the emotion, the trauma, with every death chipping away at the humanity that the responders start with. Without an outlet the stress can cause you to become jaded, or eat you from within, or both.
I know that for me, the job ate me away from the inside out. The fact that I was predisposed to emotional issues did not help, but even so, I still managed a lengthy career in emergency services, and I do still maintain contacts within the industry. What I keep hearing is that mental health in EMS is improving, but still far from what it needs to be.
I had an old friend call me today, to talk. They had a call that was hitting them hard. Several weeks ago, they made a save, after someone got into a fight with a partner, then punched a window. Severe bleeding ensued, but the crew arrived on scene, treated, got the patient to hospital and he got stitched up. They saved the guy’s life. Fast forward a few weeks, they ran on the same patient again. DOA. Suicide. They had a save, and it was snatched away.
My friend was struggling with it. In all fairness, I get it. I have been on both sides of the equation. I have run on suicides. I have stood over more bodies then I care to remember, with the family members hysterical in the next room, their world being torn apart when we say that there is nothing we can do. The saves you have to savor, and store up for when you do struggle after a bad call. It is impossible to win every day. Crap calls will happen.
I’ve been on the other side as well. I’ve had several suicide attempts in my past. periods where I have struggled to find meaning, to find hope. I wandered through the dark, having difficulty finding help, and navigating the mental health system. I eventually found the path, and got established in the system. I got help. It meant walking away from my career, and pulling away from everyone I cared about. I have been in the darkness where ending my life seemed like the best solution for everyone, at least as far as my brain was concerned. Suicide is not a selfish act. It is a tragedy that happens all to often. It happens when someone’s ability to cope is overwhelmed by the emotional pain.
I am glad that my friend reached out today, especially since we hadn’t connected in quite some time. I am happy to be there for any of my brothers and sisters who are active first responders. There is nowhere near enough support for first responders in North America. My friend felt better after we spoke. I wish there was more help for first responders. Sometimes the rescuer needs to be rescued, and there is no shame in it. Talking things out can help relieve stress and prevent someone from burning out and falling perhaps quite as far as I have. I encourage our politicians to push forward with expanded mental health coverage for everyone, but especially the people who put themselves in harms way. The system needs to move away from being reactive, and only stepping in once things have gone too far. Mental health needs to be proactive, and help those who risk everything before they struggle in the dark.