Emotional Wellbeing

Saving Our Paramedics: When Workplace Stress Affects Mental Health

Ambulance officers do an incredible job, saving countless lives while dealing with harrowing and sometimes horrific scenes.

But now questions are being asked about who is there to help our paramedics when things get too much.

Hunter Valley paramedic Tony Jenkins recently took his own life, leaving his heartbroken family demanding answers.

Many are questioning whether it was only a matter of time.

Tony’s cry for help

After 28 years of dealing with other people’s trauma, his family say Tony Jenkins began self-medicating with the opioid Fentanyl. They say he got the drugs from supplies at work.

His daughter Katy Jenkins spoke out last week on ABC’s Q&A saying her father was relieved when his drug use was discovered, hoping he could get some help.

paramedic Tony Jenkins

“But the final hours of my father’s life were spent behind closed doors with incompetent and insensitive managers, whose response to my father’s plea for help was to drive him back to his station, where he was left to walk off into the street, by himself. The next morning, police and ambulance workers came to our house, to tell us they had found his body,” she says.

“We don’t send soldiers to war for 28 years because of the PTSD that would cause. So, when are we going to start looking after our paramedics, as well as our first responders?

“Never in the whole of my existence had I once thought about my dad making a choice to leave me behind in a world that was only made to feel safe through his existence.”

A paramedic, who won’t be named for fear of losing her job, has spoken out. She says ambulance officers get a rough deal and it’s time for change.

“Once again, the on-road paramedics are being blamed instead of the focus being on why the drug abuse (which is not the mainstay) is happening! We can go to a dead baby and then straight after, be tasked to go to a 45-year old male with a sore toe without any break or counselling.” she told Mum Central.

‘Nothing beats the feeling of saving a life’

One would question why paramedics put themselves through this, but as one paramedic put it, the answer is simple.

“We care. Even with all the ridiculous low acuity cases, violence, abuse and being treated as less than human by our employer… nothing beats the feeling of saving a life, of delivering a life, of decreasing the pain, of talking someone off a cliff, of being the light in a family’s moment of darkness or fear.”

So, with the second highest rate of suicide in any emergency service field, what can be done to alleviate the pressure on paramedics?

Ambulance Victoria last year introduced a three year Mental Health and Wellbeing strategy.

But it’s not just ambulance officers who are struggling. Tony Jenkins’ suicide highlights the fact that 3 in 4 Aussies say workplace stress is affecting their health.

And statistics show mental health issues are the leading cause of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity in Australia. One in five suicides are actually linked to work.

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Fair Go paramedics display their frustration at the verdict via very clear messages on their ambulances. Source: Twitter/FairGoParamedic 

So how do we know when workplace stress is serious?

Beyondblue says workplace stress can occur when there is a mismatch between the requirements of the role, your capabilities and resources, and support available.

Some stress is reasonable but it becomes an issue when it is excessive and ongoing.

The NSW Government has asked the Mental Health Commission to develop a strategic framework for Suicide Prevention in NSW. Another 35 organisations including NSW Ambulance, Lifeline and the Black Dog Institute, are contributing.

How can my voice make a difference?

1. Sign the Petition:   Amanda Warren, 33, and Caris Underwood, 20, assaulted paramedic Paul Judd in 2016. Their jail sentences were quashed on appeal by Victoria County Court judge Barbara Cotterell.  Lawyers for the women argued their clients had endured tough childhoods but had turned their lives around since the assault had taken place.

Both Warren and Underwood were originally sentenced to 6 months and 4 months respectively, however Judge Cotterell said special reasons linked to their difficult childhoods and young family meant that the minimum 6-month term should not apply.  Naturally, the public are outraged and a petition has been setup to voice the protests of Australians.  Sign the petition here.

mum central

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Warren and Underwood have had their minimum 6-month jail sentences quashed after bashing paramedic Paul Judd in Melbourne.

2.  Take the Survey: The community is also being asked to get involved via a survey that will be used to develop a strategic framework for Suicide Prevention in NSW.  Take the survey here.

If you’re feeling stressed in the workplace, call Lifeline 131 114, MensLine 1300 789 978 or Beyondblue 1300 224 636

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