If you work in EMS, you’re an essential part of the emergency response team, responsible for providing immediate medical care to patients in critical conditions. Due to the nature of your job, you may often face stressful and traumatic incidents that can impact your mental health as an EMS professional.
The good news is there are ways to take care of your mental health as an EMS provider. This guide will discuss some solutions to help you cope with the challenges that come with the job.
Common EMS Mental Health Challenges
A study from the Journal of Emergency Medical Services found that 30% of first responders are more likely to experience depression, Acute Stress Disorder (ASD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than 20% of the general population.
Other common EMS mental health challenges include:
Compassion fatigue, also called secondhand shock or secondary stress reaction, is a type of stress resulting from helping others.
It occurs when compassion fatigue triggers affect your moods, thoughts, and well-being outside work.
Compassion fatigue is common among professionals who work in the healing or helping capacity, including EMS providers. It can affect your ability to work or complete your daily duties.
EMS providers have increased access to opioids, which could lead to substance abuse. They typically use pain-relieving drugs to help them return to work after an injury.
However, these drugs can quickly become addictive, leading to potential work-related challenges. One challenge is that many may fear seeking treatment or discussing their addiction with their peers for fear of losing their job.
Substance Use Disorders
Many EMS providers turn to substances like alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine to cope with secondhand trauma, compassion fatigue, and stress that come with the job.
As of 2021, EMS providers are 1.39 times more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.
How to Take Care of Your Mental Health as an EMS Provider
The environments in which you work can affect your mental health. So, seeking preventive care and treatment as early as possible is vital.
Remember that you cannot care for others if you don’t care for yourself.
Here are seven ways to care for your mental health as an EMS provider.
1. Destigmatize Mental Health Care
One of the major reasons many EMS providers don’t seek help is the perceived “code of silence” that stigmatizes them from speaking up about their struggles.
You can break down these barriers by:
- Talking openly about mental health
- Educating yourself and others
- Choosing empowerment over shame
- Lending an empathetic ear to your colleagues
- Joining a support group
2. Educate Yourself About the Common Mental Health Signs and Symptoms
Being aware of the common mental health signs and symptoms is crucial to finding treatment early.
Here are typical warning signs your job is taking a toll on your mental health:
- Mood swings
- Excessive fear or sadness
- Confused thinking or focus
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Change in sleeping or eating habits
3. Create Time for Outside Hobbies and Interests
Creating time for hobbies and things you enjoy doing outside work can help lower your stress levels, boost your mood and focus, and improve your overall well-being.
Whether you like cooking, golfing, or playing basketball, these hobbies will help you connect with yourself and find more joy in your daily life. If you don’t have any current hobbies, try something new.
4. Know Your Biggest Stressors
What are your biggest stressors?
Do you struggle to handle difficult patients or feel guilty when you can’t save a life? Knowing your major triggers is critical to managing your stressors.
When you know what makes you feel awful, you can start adopting strategies to manage them, such as deep breathing, meditation, and reducing stressor exposure.
5. Take Care of Your Body and Mind
Self-care is key to your overall well-being.
Here’s how to keep your body and mind in optimal shape regardless of your work environment:
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day: Find a physical activity you enjoy and make it part of your daily routine. Whether it’s a morning run or a brisk evening walk at the park, exercising regularly will help ease your stress levels.
- Eat healthily: Your job is demanding, so find time to fuel your body with healthy food. You can boost your immune system by eating more veggies and fruits and not skipping meals.
- Get enough sleep: As an EMS provider, you’ll likely experience fatigue occasionally. Getting enough sleep will boost your focus and productivity, improving your mental health.
6. Connect With Other EMS Providers
Your family, friends, or spouse will always give you a sympathetic ear, but they may not understand what you’re going through.
Connect with your colleagues, and don’t be afraid to open up. Perhaps your fellow EMS provider has been there before and is willing to help you pull through a bad day. So, consider a paramedic message board where you can share your mental health issues.
The Code Green Campaign, a first responder-oriented advocacy, offers free mental health resources. Apart from the resources, you can share your mental health story anonymously.
7. Talk to a Professional
If you feel anxious, stressed, or unable to focus, don’t assume things will be fine over time. Talk to a professional if you can’t open up to your friends or family.
A therapist or psychologist will offer practical tips to manage your stressors and improve your mental health.
EMS Mental Health Resources
While getting help from a professional is a great way to help you cope with the stressors that come with the job, sometimes you need immediate care.
Here are great mental health resources you can tap into for immediate care through phone, online chat, and text.
- ACEP’s Guide to Investing in Yourself
- ACEP Wellness and Assistance Program
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Safe Call Now
Your Mental Health Matters!
EMS providers face several challenges and traumatic events that can affect their mental health. Knowing how to take care of your mental health will help you cope with the trauma that comes with the job.
Are you a certified EMS professional looking to work in a conducive environment? At Elite Ambulance, the mental health of our team is a top priority.
Apply online today to become part of the Elite Ambulance team!
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