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Letter to the Editor: Paramedics need more mental health support

Former paramedic sees urgent need for leaders to take mental health concerns as seriously as physical hazards of the job.
Letters to the editor

Letter to the Editor:

The Superior North EMS Chief addressed City Council in September of 2022, requesting funding to expand the locker rooms at the EMS headquarters in Thunder Bay. But there was no mention of support for the people that use these lockers.

In the midst of a staffing crisis, EMS management found money for infrastructure, but no funding for any mental health preventative measures to address the stress of traumas paramedics are exposed to. Paramedics are provided $300 dollars per year for psychological help. Typically, they don’t receive the much-needed education to cope with frontline stress until they break down and fall into the WSIB safety net.

This is what happened to me. This lack of education fosters unhealthy coping strategies toward a build-up of job-related stress. Staffing levels become further impacted as medics think time away from the job will make things better. Psychology and occupational therapy proved to change the course of my life, but the education wasn’t provided until I completely broke down.

Throughout my 30-year career as a paramedic, I witnessed the positive impact of physical safety prevention measures doing wonders throughout society. There are nowhere near the number of industrial accidents, fires or slips and falls that there once were. It didn’t happen by accident, it happened through health and safety awareness. 

While attending car accidents, paramedics were mandated to wear steel toe boots, safety vests, eye protection and safety helmets. But absolutely no prevention measures on how to protect what is under their helmet and skull; the very thing we are trying to protect? There is more emphasis on protecting their toes than their minds. It’s called health and safety, and just imagine the possibilities if we have mental health safety measures equal to those of physical safety measures. 

 We are witnessing increased symptoms of PTSD throughout the EMS service. Mounting symptoms, the lack of education to both identify PTSD and engage in effective coping strategies and the lack of support systems lead a paramedic and the service down an unsustainable path. 

Paramedics are stressed, exhausted and burnt out. If this city wants to address the staffing crisis, then mental health simply cannot continue to be ignored. Mental health and safety will allow us to look out for the people who use those lockers and help protect what is under that helmet. The lack of mental health support is costing many paramedics their careers, which is most certainly adding to the staffing crisis. Health and safety can be brought to an entirely new level if these skills are taught at the beginning of a career, and not at the end of a career. 

 I share this perspective as a lived experience. I am compelled to make every effort to make the work environment of Superior North EMS responsive to the realities within this stressful job and employing effective mental health safety measures to all staff.

Pat Dixon is a retired paramedic living in Thunder Bay. He worked as a paramedic in the city for 30 years.

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