By Marly Kovacs
Paramedics routinely rush into dangerous, critical and unstable situations, where they are expected to provide flawless treatment to those in need. Paramedics face regular exposure to death, violence, infections, blood, confrontation, the terminally ill and individuals severely injured. As you can imagine this puts a great amount of stress on their shoulders and can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is an anxiety type of disorder where the sufferer relives a psychologically traumatic situation through vivid memories, flashbacks and/or nightmares.
Other symptoms of PTSD include emotional suppression, extreme guilt, fatigue, insomnia, anger and dissociation from relationships.
Unfortunately, a paramedic’s specialized training does not include coping mechanisms for the emotional toll our job takes on us. As a result, nearly one in five Canadian paramedics are likely to develop PTSD in their lifetime and nearly one in five paramedics will leave their workplace every year.
In response to these research findings, Lanark County Paramedic Service has developed a Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team. The CISM Team consists of five working paramedics from within Lanark County Paramedic Service. Its success relies heavily on it being a peer-to-peer process. All team members have signed confidentiality agreements guaranteeing absolute discretion. The CISM Team members have attended specialized training and are certified to provide this service. Management staff immediately alert the CISM Team when a particularly stressful call has occurred and a CISM Team member responds to the paramedics involved.
Our paramedics can also access the CISM Team services at any time simply by calling their supervisor with a request. The role of the CISM Team is to perform a debriefing and to act as a liaison between the paramedic and mental health professionals.
Our CISM Team has assisted several of our paramedics, with positive results. Our team is also working with other paramedic services to help them develop a CISM Team of their own. We see a bright future ahead for the health and happiness of our passionate, dedicated paramedics.
Marly Kovacs is a Team Leader with Lanark County Paramedic Service