What is EMS Strong?

EMS Strong, the theme for EMS Week 2015, comes during a year with an alarming number of suicides among EMS providers. As tragic as this is, I am encouraged that attention mental illness among EMS provider has received. This topic needs to come out of the shadows and be okay talk about.

Being strong means having the courage to ask for help when you need it, and offering help to colleagues and friends. Prominent EMS writer and speaker Kelly Grayson shared about his struggles with depression in his EMS 1 columns, True confessions about a clinically depressed medic, and How EMS can be the voice of courage for one another. Kelly showed real courage by sharing about his struggles, and I applaud him for it.

The Code Green Campaign also celebrated its one year anniversary, whose goal is to raise awareness and prevent suicide among EMS providers and share resources available to help. It is also an anonymous outlet for people to share their stories of struggles with PTSD, substance abuse, mental illness, and trauma. I am inspired by their resiliency and willingness to share. I also wonder if the coworkers of the people who share these stories, often together 12 or 24 hours at a time, had any idea how much they were suffering.

Dan Limmer has also written about this issue recently, including Suicide and the EMS provider, and Does it hurt to care more? Greg Friese’s EMS 1 column, Depression in EMS: we are in this battle together, also covers the need for peer support. We need to create an environment in EMS that makes mental illness as easy to talk about as high blood pressure, asthma, or diabetes, and to make it okay to ask for help.

One thing we need to stop is gossip.  I am ashamed to say that I have engaged in this, and hope to set a better example for the next generation of paramedics. I’ve heard EMS people talk behind the back of someone whose marriage is failing more often than asking if they need help. I’ve heard EMS people talk behind the back of people who made a mistake on a call than help them become better providers. Gossip spreads like a disease. It tears organizations apart, leaves personal devastation in its path, and is a coping mechanism that shows weakness, not strength.

Courage is contagious too. If you ask for help when you need it, so will other people. If you initiate an uncomfortable conversation with someone having difficulty, so will other people. If you go against a culture of gossip and negativity, eventually it will change.

Kelly Grayson wrote in his column “Peer support can be a lifeline when all other methods fail.” Have the courage to be that peer, and be strong for one another.

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