How to get information and support on mental health
He said: “Being involved has also given me some solace. Knowing that I’m helping others in itself makes me feel good, gives me a sense of achievement.
“There is no shame or stigma attached to experiencing mental health problems – it’s just the same as breaking a bone, except no-one can see that you are suffering.
“We are not superhuman and we are just as prone to illness as anyone else, if not more.”
‘Some calls always remain with you’
As Jules Lockett points out, it’s not just paramedics who can experience extreme pressure.
Though she doesn’t work on the front line like some of her colleagues, there is extreme pressure on her in her role at the London Ambulance Service, where she has been employed for 18 years.
“I think there is always a call, or a handful of calls in your career which always remain with you,” said the 48-year-old, who started out as a call-handler in the emergency control room.
“You get a response when you can relate it to your nan, your aunty or your uncle. Some of the calls are really distressing: people hanging, or in cardiac arrest. Those calls still stay with me.
“But they also really make you feel that’s what you are there to do; it isn’t just about giving instructions.”
The service’s current head of training says she has seen greater pressures on its workers, with the average number of calls reaching 5,000 in a 24-hour period.
“It is sometimes quite difficult to try and convey the sentiment you want to someone when you are on the phone. You want to put your arm around them and give them a hug and make them better.”
For Jules, her mental health problems weren’t directly related to her work, but she said it was the support of her ambulance “family” that helped her through it.
She underwent surgery on her back before joining the service, which brought on a period of depression, and, when she found she needed more surgery about five years ago, she talked it through with her workmates.
“I think it is important to ask people for support, and sometimes your colleagues will be critical to help get you through the tough times.”
She said London Ambulance Service has promoted discussion about mental health and provides support in the workplace.
It offers resilience training, counselling services, a peer support network and has recently set up two quiet zones near the control rooms in Waterloo and Bow, where staff can go when they need time to reflect.
‘The nightmares would be horrendous’
Peter Morgan says his problems came years after he stopped working in the ambulance service.
He was a paramedic for 10 years, covering Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, before leaving the service in 2003.
But when a friend was killed in a road traffic accident about five years later, his mental health went into decline.
“It would be flashbacks, the nightmares would be horrendous, I would wake up pool of sweat – it was awful,” said Peter, 51, who would go on to be diagnosed with PTSD.
“The nightmares would start off being memories from the past, jobs I’d been to, then they started to change, almost like something from a horrendous fiction-horror where I would be surrounded by body parts.
“Totally away from reality, but for me it was extremely real.”
Peter’s wife Tina was instrumental in realising he needed to get help and approached the Ambulance Staff Charity, which is based in Coventry, not far from their home in Rugby.
He started therapy and this helped him understand the triggers for his episodes, such as the sound of helicopters or sirens.
“With the ambulance service, you’ve got anything from a cot death to a road traffic accident; you spend your day going from picking little old Mrs Jones off the floor because she fell over to five people dead in a car crash.
“It is going from one extreme to another within the space of, like, five hours. For some, it gets to a point where you can’t take it.
“Nowadays, the emergency services understand what PTSD is. I don’t think anyone did before, and that was a problem.
“Now there is more awareness and a realisation that every job is loading on a little bit more.”
Addressing mental health problems within the emergency services is not simply a matter of offering support to those in need, according to Mind’s Blue Light Programme manager Faye McGuinness.
Part of its work also involves training people to be more aware of the issues colleagues might face.
“People think it is all trauma-related, but what people have what told us is that organisational factors are impacting more negatively: things like long working hours, shift patterns and the stigma surrounding mental health.
“We have most definitely have seen a change – we have been quite overwhelmed with the reaction within a group we thought would be difficult to reach.
“There is definitely still work to do – you don’t see things change overnight – but we are starting to see organisations change the way they view mental health wellbeing.
“It is a long-term commitment.”