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Depression In EMS

Discussion in 'Health and Fitness' started by azemtb255, Apr 28, 2013.

  1. azemtb255

    azemtb255 Member

    Location:
    USA
    EMS Training:
    EMT-Paramedic
    I did a search and could not find anything like this, so I figured I would try to start a thread.

    Depression is extremely prevalent in the United States. I wanted to find out your thoughts on depression in EMS because mental health is a big part of health. Three questions:

    1) How prevalent is depression among EMS personel? Do you think it is higher or lower than the general population and why?

    2) Do you have any direct experience with depression in EMS? This could be with a partner who struggled with depression, a friend in EMS, or even yourself. What did you do (if anything) to try to help them.

    3) At what point should a EMS provider remove themselves from the field because of depression, and when should they consider returning?
  2. 46Young

    46Young Level 25 EMS Wizard

    Location:
    Shenandoah Valley, VA
    EMS Training:
    EMT-Paramedic
    1) Unknown to me, but I would suspect that depression runs more frequently in EMS than the general public. The effects of severe sleep deprivation, missing holidays and weekend activities, lack of job security, lack of career advancement, low pay that requires copious OT and per diem work, seeing human suffering and death on a regular basis, and stress on marriages and other personal relationships all take their toll.

    2) I've seen many, many people project a miserable, irritable persona on the job. One co-worker was granted two months of leave usage (his own, not the county's) due to clinical depression from working five years at a busy station that typically runs all day, and most of the night. He almost got divorced. When he returned to work, he was relocated to a slow station.

    3) Hard to say; every situation's different. If you need more than a month or two away from EMS, you probably shouldn't be in the field at all. You're just going to return to the same conditions that caused you your distress in the first place.

    Edit: If you need to do a project for RN School, do one on sleep deprivation in EMS and fire. A co-worker's daughter recently polled a number of stations for her study.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 28, 2013
  3. bbmtnbb

    bbmtnbb New Member

    Location:
    Thousand Oaks
    My brother's first partner recently commited suicide but I believe that was related to the war more than EMS. That is something to consider...Who is in this job and what past experiences would add to depression? Maybe there is more than just EMS. btw-my brother does NOT suffer depression and works inner city EMS as a medic and has no past war or military experience. Bottom line is get help if you need it and help others if they don't see it. :sad:
  4. mycrofft

    mycrofft Still crazy but elsewhere

    Location:
    Central California
    Good post.

    Don't know about EMS, but the "common knowledge" is that retired law enforcement has a "spike" of suicides shortly (few years ) after retirement. Since their culture while in LE suggested that they have firearms on hand and drink a lot, and they have a high divorce rate and can't identify with or make themselves understood by non-LE their depression as expressed by suicidality is particularly lethal.

    NO idea how to study this properly, since "working ambulance" is sort of like working at McDonalds for many folks, they grow out of it, hurt their backs, or otherwise leave before it becomes their life forever. And the urban experience is very different than the rural one.
  5. smurfgirl

    smurfgirl New Member

    EMS Training:
    Student
    I don't see what your depression has to do with the career you choose to do for the rest of your life?
  6. abckidsmom

    abckidsmom Dances with Patients Community Leader

    Location:
    Virginia
    EMS Training:
    EMT-Paramedic
    I have a theory that EMS providers are at higher risk for depression and trouble at home because of the way that the job can enhance some of the less desirable parts of our personalities.

    For some people, the constant go-go-go nature of the job, with steady, high energy interaction with people, and the perception that everything we do is pivotal, earth-moving stuff, combined with the zero-to-60 momentum swing when we go from kicking back to getting a call can lead to overdeveloped or exaggerated autonomic nervous system response.

    Thus, we can go-go-go for long shifts, with sympathetic activation as needed for more go-go-go, but when we get home, the safety and comfort of home provokes a parasympathetic crash, sometimes more depending on how life is going.

    This cycle can be a very bad one, depending on relationships at home. Considering the kinds of personalities that are drawn to the field, home being the boring, sleep place set people up for negative energy when they think of home, and with low energy levels at home, the relationships can be strained when loved ones think "you can do everything you can for others, but never anything for us at home."

    This applies to many people who fill "sheep dog" roles in society. The roles are so important, and the people filling them so passionate, that the full-on energy with which they throw themselves into the job leave little for others sometimes.

    I think this is a very important concept to be aware of to help in preventing the cycle, and to deal with unrealistic expectations before they become a problem and lead to conditions like depression.
  7. Abel

    Abel New Member

    Considering the types of individualizes that are attracted to the area, house being the tedious, rest position set individuals up for adverse power when they think of house....
  8. chillybreeze

    chillybreeze New Member

    Location:
    eastern nc
    EMS Training:
    EMT-Intermediate




    Thats the first time Ive heard it put into words but I really think you have hit the nail on the head! I struggle with this sometimes. When all I want to do is go home and go to sleep or rest and forget everything I have to remember that I have a family who needs me as much as the rest of my district needs me.
  9. abckidsmom

    abckidsmom Dances with Patients Community Leader

    Location:
    Virginia
    EMS Training:
    EMT-Paramedic
    They need you more, really. I find that exercising before I go home really helps fight that.
  10. chillybreeze

    chillybreeze New Member

    Location:
    eastern nc
    EMS Training:
    EMT-Intermediate
    ugh!!! exercise.....thats a bad word!! Actually its a bad word i need to work on! lol
  11. Wheel

    Wheel Member

    Very interesting perspective, and something I'll need to keep in mind in my young career. Thank you.
  12. EMDispatch

    EMDispatch Member

    Location:
    Maryland
    1) I think adckidsmom hit a large portion of it on the head. First responders end up on a mental/emotional rollercoaster when at work. It has to have long term effects on your brain chemistry. I'd also assume PTSD plays a significant factor in all this too. In the dispatch world they throw around the term "vicarious traumatization" we experience the events through the caller, which can make even minor events emotionally draining to us. For a field provider you experience your own trauma when involved on the incident, as well as that of the patient.

    2) Never had a partner in the field. Our agency tries to head off major problems with CISDs and open door policies. It all certainly seems to help.

    3) The moment depression starts to impact your performance in a negative way, you should remove yourself until it can be remedied. If it takes weeks, so be it... if it takes months or years, maybe you should consider other lines of employment.
  13. Anjel

    Anjel Forum Angel

    Location:
    The Mitten
    My first partner was bipolar and depressed after a bad break up with her partner of 7 years. I was her replacement. She was normally fine and dandy, but there would be days where she would get on scene and stand back and just say ":censored::censored::censored::censored: it". Something would set her off and she would stop caring. Leaving me to do everything. She was attacked by a psych patient and broke her thumb and tore all connective tissue. She left the road after that.

    My last partner was depressed with borderline personality disorder. She would get a bad call and go and cut her self afterwards. With that I constantly went to the operations manager. I couldn't stand by and let her hurt herself, and I really couldn't trust her on scenes. I was constantly watching my back and hers. She ultimately left , because she couldn't handle it anymore.

    I think it is prevalent in EMS because of the reasons ABCkids mom stated. I find it hard to balance having friends outside of work, because it seems like that is what life revolves around. The things I find funny leave my friends horrified. So I've separated myself from them. Same with my husband, I don't talk about my days any more. This job is enough to wear any normal person down.
  14. chaz90

    chaz90 Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Delaware
    EMS Training:
    EMT-Paramedic
    How have you had the privilege of having such...extraordinary partners? I've been lucky in that none of my partners, or myself, has ever been bothered enough by anything to affect work. I've dealt with the usual burnouts, but nothing (directly as partners) that got to the point where they were non functional.

    I do think that's the way psychological difficulties typically express themselves in EMS providers. Most of us don't have a sudden moment that takes us from perfect to broken, but continual stress over years does "burn us out." We may be ok physically (or we may not) but I'd say a majority of the 20 year field level providers I meet are burnt out to some degree or another. Some are still able to function effectively and don't mind working, there are a few that have managed to seemingly ward off the effects of a long career, but many are husks of their former selves at work and should leave EMS completely to heal. Problem with that is, many of them can't. Being in EMS for 20 years, many of them stopped their education at EMT-P. Unless they get one of a very few available supervisory positions, there aren't a ton of jobs outside of field work available for medics. These burnt out providers have gotten used to the wages of EMS, which while not great, may not be able to be met by another career with the education they have. We often have trouble adapting to other jobs as well, as many on here have already mentioned. Long stretches of down time with relative freedom, available but not required OT, ability to sleep at work, and 4 days off at a time are conditions that aren't available in other lines of work. Sadly, all these factors combine to keep many burnt out providers in the field long past their time, and may eventually lead to true depression or other psychological issues.
  15. Remi

    Remi Slave Labor Premium Member

    EMS Training:
    EMT-Paramedic
    Interesting topic.


    1. I don't know. I've never seen anything that made me suspect that the incidence of depression is higher than in non-EMS folks.

    2. No.

    3. I guess, when you realize that the job is a significant contributor to you depression, or if your depression reaches such a level that you just can't safely function at work.


    The autonomic NS theory is an interesting perspective, but the problem with that theory is that most people quickly adapt to the acute stresses of the job. For the first few months or so, everyone gets all worked up and anxious when the pager goes off, but that fades quickly for most of us, and the conditioned SNS response goes away. Perhaps there are some people who don't adapt and for them, this would help explain their problems.

    I think one common contributor to dissatisfaction with the job (and potentially to depression) is simple disappointment with it. I've known lots of people (myself included) who just didn't find the job as fun or interesting or stimulating as they had hoped. Most of us adjust and either learn to like the job or move on, but some people have a real problem with it, and it affects their attitude and outlook significantly.
  16. v3nn3m

    v3nn3m New Member

    Ive seen a lot of people who are just starting off take things they seen and done very personally and it effects them more than it should, I feel like its not the job for them
  17. firetender

    firetender Active Member

    Location:
    Maui, HI
    EMS Training:
    EMT-Paramedic
    Look around you. Count the burnouts. How many have you seen disappear?The "D" word is something rarely used but when people crawl out the door -- and usually silently -- you know it has reared its ugly head.
  18. azemtb255

    azemtb255 Member

    Location:
    USA
    EMS Training:
    EMT-Paramedic
    Interesting. Never thought about that. I think it assumes that burnout or leaving EMS is directly related to depression though, which is highly plausible but lacks any studies to confirm it.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 4, 2013
  19. firetender

    firetender Active Member

    Location:
    Maui, HI
    EMS Training:
    EMT-Paramedic
    I'm not saying there's a direct correlation. One of the major factors of burnout, though as it relates to EMS is that you are on a roller-coaster ride of emotions and challenges. One of them is the extreme highs of doing vital work followed by the ensuing depression of ho-hum life. The struggle to maintain a balance drags you down. That is, if you even try! So many of us become adrenaline junkies and part of that syndrome very much includes the ensuing crash; the depression.

    Another factor is the deeper you get into the field, the more depressing your environment becomes. The sociology of despair, if you will. Most of your working life is spent amongst depressing circumstances -- people struggling to stay alive (or avoid living). After a while, it begins to look like that's all there is to the world.
  20. 46Young

    46Young Level 25 EMS Wizard

    Location:
    Shenandoah Valley, VA
    EMS Training:
    EMT-Paramedic
    Match up sleep deprivation with missing holidays and family events, low pay, concerns for job security and permanent injury, severely limited career development, when you constantly see (sometimes extreme) human suffering, you're at high risk for depression.

    I've seen numerous people go from happy-go-lucky or a generally positive attitude, to having a flat affect, become increasingly prone to violent outbursts, declveloping indifference and apathy towards their patients, and banging in sick/ taking leave as soon as they get a day's accrual. This doesn't take 15-20 years to occur, either. Some people are done with EMS in 3-5 years.

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