Depression in EMS: We are in this battle together

"My brain is not working right. I am mentally ill. Can we talk about it?” Your EMS peers are ready to listen

"When I am happy I can't ever imagine being sad again, and when I am sad I can't ever imagine being happy again. When I am sad I can't even remember being happy again," a friend told me after much prompting, nudging, and cajoling. Those words have stayed with me for 20 years and took our relationship to a place where we could openly discuss his struggle against bipolar disorder.

I am in the battle with you

Yes, it's a battle. Depression is a battle, like the battle our sisters, moms, and daughters are fighting against breast cancer. The fight against PTSD is a war, like the war our dads, brothers, and sons are waging against cardiac disease.

My friends and acquaintances post their chemotherapy hair loss photos on Facebook. Do yours? We "like" and comment about their bravery and offer our prayers and will wishes.

When asked, "Have you ever had any heart problems?" I have had many patients open their shirt like they were Superman in a phone booth to show me the 10-inch scar in the center of their chest.

Friends, family, and co-workers discuss with me all manner of physical injuries and maladies. Earlier today a friend texted me about his low back pain and lingering head cold.

Can we talk about my brain problem?

I can't think of a time a friend, a family member, or a co-worker texted me or said, "My brain is not working right. I am mentally ill. Can we talk about it?"

Paramedic Debbie Crawford died by suicide a few hours after responding to a fatal incident. Paramedic Greg Turner died by suicide in his station near the end of his shift. These deaths are heartbreaking for their friends and family and I feel a combination of sadness and confusion. Could we have done more for our colleagues?

Talking about the pain on the inside helps

When I look at my circle of paramedic friends, I can see a few that are limping from chronic knee pain, struggling to lose a few pounds, or have a hitch in their step from a low back tweak. Sure I want them to get better, but I am most worried by the injuries and sickness I can't see in my friends. How much are they hurting on the inside? What can I do to relieve or lessen that pain and suffering?

Talking might not be the one and only solution, but we know it helps.

Need to talk?

  • Try a friend, co-worker or family member
  • Get a referral to your employee assistance program
  • Seek out peer support from the Code Green Campaign
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1 (800) 273-8255

EMS1 Columnist Kelly Grayson wrote, "Peer support can be a lifeline when all other methods fail." 

None of us are alone in this battle. We are with you and ready to listen.

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