EMS Health Part 2: Emotional Health

This five-part series reviews personal health issues that can greatly impact your well-being.


There's no denying that as a paramedic or EMT you are exposed to a lot of dreadfully sad events. But there is a difference between being sad because of something you saw or heard and being depressed for no apparent reason at all. Being sad is a normal reaction when something upsetting has happened, such as a loved one dying. However, when after several months you are unable to get out of bed in the morning, you could be depressed.

The Mayo Clinic indicates that although symptoms of depression can vary from person to person, these can be typical:

  • Feeling sad, down or "empty"
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or helpless
  • Feeling irritable or restless
  • Changes in appetite, and losing or gaining weight unintentionally
  • Sleeping poorly or oversleeping
  • Feeling fatigued or having decreased energy
  • Having persistent feelings of guilt
  • Having trouble thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Having thoughts of suicide
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs

According to Depression.org, more than 15 million people in the United States suffer from depression, including people who should seemingly be "happy." Take for example, Terry Bradshaw, the Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback who won four Super Bowls and two Emmys for sports broadcasting. It wasn't until he was in his 50s that he finally came to grips with the depression that he had suffered since his 20s.

Many people, like Bradshaw, don't realize they have an illness. In an article in Parade Magazine, he relates he "kept trying to make myself happy by winning more games, accumulating more stuff, goring through one wife, two wives, three wives. The only thing I could do was work, and I worked myself to death so I could escape."

The exact cause of depression is not known, although Mayo Clinic identifies several initiators, including biology, neurotransmitters (brain chemicals linked to mood), hormones, heredity, life events and early childhood trauma. The University of Maryland Medical Center also links chronic stress, amount of exposure to light, sleep disturbances, social isolation, nutritional deficiencies, serious medical conditions (such as heart attacks or cancer) and certain medications to depression.

Because of the various causes, severity levels, etc. associated with depression, there are also various treatment options, ranging from psychotherapy and medication to lifestyle changes.

If you feel depressed or think you have any of the symptoms of depression listed above, talk with your doctor. He or she will likely run tests to rule out other conditions. If your doctor determines medication is necessary, there are several antidepressant medications available.

Psychotherapy with a mental health provider is another key depression treatment. Learning about the causes of your depression can help you identify and make changes in unhealthy behavior or thoughts. It can also help you find better ways to cope and solve problems.

Lifestyle changes, such as adding aerobic, strength training and flexibility exercises, can help reduce mild to moderate depression. Exercise is thought to decrease depression by improving self-esteem and by releasing endorphins, chemicals in your body that interact with the receptors in your brain to reduce your perception of pain. They also trigger a positive feeling in the body.

The University of Maryland Medical Center also suggests several steps that can help prevent depression or decrease the chances of relapse. Get adequate sleep and eat a balanced, healthy diet. Practice mind-body techniques such as biofeedback therapy (improving health and performance by using signals from your own body), meditation and tai chi. Adding nutritional supplements and herbs and incorporating acupuncture and homeopathy into your daily routine are also being studied as ways to treat depression.

The bottom line is to remember that depression is not a personal weakness or personality fault, but an illness that is treatable and curable for many. There is no need to suffer in silence.

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