Paramedic Mental Health: Empathy in the Eye of the Storm
by Glenn Holsten
“The beauty about paramedicine is you have these really intimate relationships that last about thirty minutes, and then you’re done,” says paramedic Ian Stoddart. “I like it when there’s a big tornado coming up and I’m right in the eye of it and you have to be able to respond that way and then it’s over and done with. That’s part of it. I like the excitement, the adrenaline rush of that.”
Intimate, true. Intense might also be another word to describe an average paramedic’s encounter with the public. Ultimately, paramedics are called to a scene because the people there can no longer handle that scene. And all of the scenes aren’t necessarily calm scenes.
When they arrive, it is up to a paramedic to take control. Naturally, there’s a lot of stress involved. And when you respond to multiple calls over many, many days, stress can’t help but build up.
Ian has been a paramedic for 32 years. That means 32 years of really intimate, intense experiences. Those kinds of experiences, exciting as they may be, do come at a cost in terms of mental health.
According to Ian, “It’s so cumulative. It’s not one specific incident. It’s all of these things adding up, and then often one incident will put you over the edge.”
For Ian, a particularly tragic call involving a young woman’s death by drug overdose triggered his mental health crisis. Self-care and empathy were keys to his recovery. Now, as Ian teaches paramedics and EMS workers, empathy and emotional care are priorities in his curriculum.
“Emotional care is 90% of a paramedic’s job. That’s how it should be,” Ian says, “but that gets lost sometimes.”
Ian’s story is part of Beneath the Vest, a special first responder series created by OC87 Recovery Diaries that explores the mental health journeys of the men and women who have chosen a career to help others, and realize they need to help themselves along the way. We know you’ll enjoy hearing his story.