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“We wear our uniform like armour”: What paramedics do

By Dr Sally Fitzpatrick

Today is International Paramedics Day. It’s an opportunity to shine a light on what paramedics do for our community.

Paramedics have been there when we needed them most, supporting us through the COVID-19 pandemic and more recently at the Hunter Valley bus crash.

Their workdays are long, with shifting work hours, high stress and exposure to trauma.

“Our job can be beautiful. We can see and do the most incredible things. And there is absolutely nothing on this earth that is the same as saving someone's life or being part of that trajectory that has resulted in them surviving,” says Critical Care Paramedic, Marissa.

“But we are also called to someone's worst nightmare and are expected to face up to that and deal with that in a professional way, the best way we can. Clean the truck and go to the next one”.

Their unique role means that paramedics are nearly twice as likely to experience mental health concerns or suicidal distress, and are also less likely to seek professional support.

“We wear our uniform like armour and we walk in like we're impenetrable, into chaos and we just find a plan, make it work and ultimately save a life. However, there are times when we don't and it doesn't matter what we do, that person will not survive. That could be an infant, that could be a teenager, an adult. It could be someone that you love, that you know,” says Marissa.

As a Clinical Psychologist and researcher, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know paramedics like Marissa and learn more about what they do and how it impacts their lives and the people around them.

“Normally when you come home, you feel exhausted… mentally and physically. The double nights just knock me around really. But I've been fortunate enough where I can leave a lot of it at work. Not all of it, some of it comes home with me,” says Clinical Deployment Supervisor, Mark.

This means that family and friends are often the main support for paramedics. This support can vary from providing a listening ear to emotional, financial and practical support that goes beyond the normal responsibilities of being a mum, dad, sister, brother, aunt, uncle or friend.

Providing support for a loved one experiencing mental health concerns or suicidal distress can affect your energy, time, finances and emotions. Family and friends can often experience an increase in their own symptoms of anxiety or depression in their caregiving role.

So, to better help paramedics cope with the stressors associated with their job, we have to go to the frontline and support their family and friends.

For Mark, communication is the key to supporting paramedics like himself. “And just understanding that it could be some pretty rough times where they just won't be in their right head space and being able to support them in that and get them to seek help and not bottle it up.”

Minds Together is an Everymind program for the partners, spouses, family members, friends and colleagues who support paramedics with their mental health. The free, self-paced online program provides practical skills and strategies to help people support the mental health of their family and friends – and look after themselves.

You can help us test this program by taking part in our research trial at mindstogether.org.au.

Thank you to Marissa, Mark and the many other paramedics and their family and friends who shared what they do to help develop this support program.

Published: 8 July 2023

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