First Responder Mental Health: A Paramedic’s Tale - OC87 Recovery Diaries

First Responder Mental Health: A Paramedic’s Tale

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Ashley Neubauer has good first responder genes. She’s a third generation first responder (her father was her hometown’s fire chief for years), she’s a volunteer firefighter and has worked as a paramedic for six years. 

“I really do enjoy helping people,” she says, even in the darkest of times. “When we get called, it’s generally the worst day of someone’s life . . . we’re the ones that come to fix that, make them feel they’re safe, we’ll make them better.” Ashley’s a “huge patient advocate,” and invests a good deal of herself into every interaction. And she says that her career choice has many rewards. 

But it also poses significant challenges, especially for her mental health. “Working in this job, we are exposed to a lot of very traumatic things,” she says.  Two specific difficult cases—the first involving the death of a young girl (a pediatric cardiac arrest), the second the death of her uncle (car accident)—had a compounded effect and lasting impact on her emotional well-being. 

“I felt guilty cause I thought ‘What if I got there sooner? What if I was the one there working on him? Could I have saved him?’”

“I was having nightmares about it, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep.” 

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Ashley experienced depression and anxiety, painful flashbacks and bad dreams. She sought help, but the medication she was prescribed wasn’t the right fit, and she attempted to hurt herself. Soon after, she was hospitalized for a few days in a psychiatric unit—a move that Ashley says was the right thing for her at the time. It allowed her to address her mental health and create a plan for a more stable and productive life.

Ashley now says she is “living her best life.” Music and the arts play a big role in her life, a creative counterpart to the stresses of everyday life as a paramedic. She also enjoys reaching out to colleagues that may be experiencing the same stresses and anxieties, directing them to resources and offering her own experience as a hopeful outcome.

Ashley’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 salute her and thank her for the remarkable work she is doing in our world, and know you’ll enjoy hearing her story.

EDITOR IN CHIEF: Gabriel Nathan | EDITOR: Glenn Holsten | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman

See Related Recovery Stories: Anxiety, Depression, Mental Health Short Films, PTSD

Glenn is an award-winning director who loves to create compelling documentary story experiences of all lengths for screens of all sizes. He is an avid reader, studied literature in college, and his passion for stories with strong characters and interesting narratives stems from those years. His career as a visual storyteller began at WHYY (the public television station in Philadelphia) where he worked for 15 years before becoming an independent filmmaker. In addition to his PBS documentaries about arts and culture, he has directed films about justice and human rights, and now, mental health. He was emboldened to undertake his current documentary project, Hollywood Beauty Salon, a colorful feature-length documentary about surviving mental illness and finding the courage for recovery, after his transformative experience directing OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie, along with Bud Clayman and Scott Johnston.

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