'I don't get it:' Trying to understand 2 medic suicides

An Idaho EMS agency PIO is trying to understand two tragic deaths in six months, and calls on all EMS to providers to take mental illness seriously

By Hadley Mayes, Public Information Officer and Marketing Coordinator
Ada County Paramedics

Within the past year Ada County Paramedics lost two of its own employees—to suicide.

It’s as difficult to write about, as it is to talk about. As I sit here—I have to admit, in an administrative position with no EMS background, I don’t get it. I work 9-5 with holidays and weekends off. And when I go home, the most I usually stress about is whether I’ve represented my agency well that day and whether my boss will keep me around for a bit longer.

This black bar through our “star of life” mirrors the “mourning bands” our paramedics wear on their badges when one of our own passes on (Courtesy Ada County Paramedics).
This black bar through our “star of life” mirrors the “mourning bands” our paramedics wear on their badges when one of our own passes on (Courtesy Ada County Paramedics).

I’ve never had to watch a child die. I’ve never resuscitated someone while his or her hopeful and tearful family looked on. I’ve never seen a gunshot wound or a bone protruding through skin. I’ve never been vomited on or cussed out for just trying to do my job—just trying to help. I’ve never awoken in the wee hours of the morning to an alarm knowing I might be the solitary link between someone’s life or death. I sit at a desk most of the time. Like I said, I don’t get it. Most of us don’t.

Paramedics and first responders in general have amongst the most difficult, and some of the most thankless jobs that exist. I’ve heard stories of patients spitting on, screaming at and even punching EMS professionals whose only goal was to help someone who was in pain. But after the patient is taken care of, what about the paramedic? If they’re lucky they can share their story with a spouse or friend in the same industry… but more likely, they’re sharing their “day at the office” story with someone like me. Someone who doesn’t get it. And because of that, at some point, they stop sharing. It’s their job to be strong, fix problems and have all the answers—so they may feel like talking about a tough day or an emotional 911 call isn’t what a strong person or a professional would do.

The two separate suicide deaths left our agency reeling each time. They left us asking ourselves why this happened and what, if anything, we could have done. Something I’ve learned about the paramedic and EMT profession in my short three years with Ada County Paramedics, is these people are strong. They’re independent and they don’t show weakness—even if they’re silently spiraling into a bad place.

But people in the EMS profession aren’t the only ones who can find themselves at a breaking point, as evidenced by the mental health 911 call volume of 2014. Last year alone, Ada County Paramedics responded to over two thousand mental-health-related calls—that’s about seven 911 calls each day specifically categorized as a mental health emergency.

No one knows quite how to address the hurt, sorrow and pity we feel after a tragedy like suicide. And maybe that’s part of the problem. The hush hush that exists around mental health and/or mental illness and the sometimes-resulting suicide makes people uncomfortable. But it’s this stigma that can leave those who need assistance suffering in silence.

With that, we all need to challenge ourselves to say something, tell someone and take it seriously if we feel ourselves “melting” under the light and heat. There’s no shame in taking care of you.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, thoughts of self harm or suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1 (800) 273-8255 or call 911 if you feel you or someone you know is in immediate danger.

About Ada County Paramedics

Ada County (Idaho) Paramedics has provided exceptional medical care and superior service since 1975. Our expertise and genuine concern for our patients are just a few of the many things that shape our philosophy--which is based on integrity, trust, humanity, stewardship and excellence. 

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