Last week Ada County Paramedics became the latest public safety organization to lose a member to suicide. It was the second time in six months a member of the agency took their own life. “Naturally,” says PIO Hadley Mayes, “our organization is reeling from the aftermath.”
Mayes wrote the following blog for ACP’s website. EMS World is pleased to republish it here and strongly supports its message. If you’re having trouble, please seek help. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800/273-8255.
It’s as difficult to write about as it is to talk about. As I sit here— I have to admit, in an administrative position with no EMS background, I don’t get it. I work 9–5 with holidays and weekends off. And when I go home, the most I usually stress about is whether I’ve represented my agency well that day and whether my boss will keep me around for a bit longer.
I’ve never had to watch a child die. I’ve never resuscitated someone while his or her hopeful and tearful family looked on. I’ve never seen a gunshot wound or a bone protruding through skin. I’ve never been vomited on or cussed out for just trying to do my job—just trying to help. I’ve never awoken in the wee hours of the morning to an alarm knowing I might be the solitary link between someone’s life or death. I sit at a desk most of the time. Like I said, I don’t get it. Most of us don’t.
Paramedics and first responders in general have among the most difficult and some of the most thankless jobs that exist. I’ve heard stories of patients spitting on, screaming at and even punching EMS professionals whose only goal was to help someone who was in pain. But after the patient is taken care of, what about the paramedic? If they’re lucky, they can share their story with a spouse or friend in the same industry…but more likely they’re sharing their “day at the office” story with someone like me. Someone who doesn’t get it. And because of that, at some point, they stop sharing. It’s their job to be strong, fix problems and have all the answers—so they may feel like talking about a tough day or an emotional 9-1-1 call isn’t what a strong person or a professional would do.
The two separate suicide deaths left our agency reeling each time. They left us asking ourselves why this happened and what, if anything, we could have done. Something I’ve learned about the paramedic and EMT profession in my short three years with Ada County Paramedics is, these people are strong. They’re independent, and they don’t show weakness—even if they’re silently spiraling into a bad place.
But people in the EMS profession aren’t the only ones who can find themselves at a breaking point, as evidenced by the mental health 9-1-1 call volume of 2014. Last year alone, Ada County Paramedics responded to over 2,000 mental-health-related calls—that’s about seven 9-1-1 callseach day specifically categorized as a mental health emergency.
No one knows quite how to address the hurt, sorrow and pity we feel after a tragedy like suicide. And maybe that’s part of the problem. The hush-hush that exists around mental health and/or mental illness and the sometimes-resulting suicide makes people uncomfortable. But it’s this stigma that can leave those who need assistance suffering in silence.
With that, we all need to challenge ourselves to say something, tell someone and take it seriously if we feel ourselves “melting” under the light and heat. There’s no shame in taking care of you.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, thoughts of self-harm or suicide, call Mobile Crisis at 334-0808, the 24/7 Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800/273-8255, or call 9-1-1 if you feel you or someone you know is in immediate danger.