Thanksgiving In Canada Pt 2: Depression, PTSD and Mental Illness

Today is Thanksgiving, it will be a pretty low key day today as myself and family celebrated yesterday. It snowed overnight which would make today our second day of snow officially (First day was last week) At least in my area.

Yesterday a firefighter took his own life in a community in Alberta. In the last 4 weeks 6 Paramedics and Firefighters have lost their life, and from what I understand they were all suicides.

The term we are all dropping like flies seems to apply here.

Across Canada in 2017, 52 Emergency Services workers have committed suicide and in 2016, 68 Emergency Services workers have committed suicide.

Not that I’m trying to preach numbers to anyone but it seems the longer I’m in this profession the more substantial these numbers have meaning to me.

8 years ago when I got my first job as an EMT, I worked with a girl for 2 and a half years. It was right before AHS took over.

(Alberta Health Services: a government organization that runs health care in Alberta decided they would take over ALL Ambulance Services and “TRY” To run them with everything else Health care in Alberta. Currently they run about 75% of ambulances and the rest are still privately owned.)

This girl, had maybe less then 1 year in the profession then me, she was fairly new I was brand new. It was an amazing 2.5 years, one of my favorite partners I could have asked for. (To clarify “Partner” meaning co worker. As you need 2 people to work on an ambulance we are partners.)

I quit working for AHS 3 years later and started working for a Private Company.

My partner quit and moved to Vancouver to work shortly after that.

We dont talk much, since we moved apart, but she messaged me the other day and asked me if I remember any high Acuity calls we both did. She said she was diagnosed with PTSD and was taken off work for 6 months. I asked her what made her get looked at for PTSD and she said:

“I have flashbacks, my memories play on loops that i cant stop, cant sleep, i flush, have chest pain & sob, chronic headaches, really bad short term memory, trouble concentrating, and on and on! The kicker was i got up to go to work and i couldnt find my coat and i just freaked out and froze. I like coulnt move. I called in sick and went to see my psychologist and she pulled me off car until 2019”

Shes younger then me, and we have almost the same amount of time in the profession and I wonder if this is where I’m headed?

For months I have been dealing with stress and occasional bouts of depression, but is it work related or personal life related ? Maybe a mix of both.

I love my job, to this day I’m more then happy to wake up and get out of bed and go to work.

But the life of a Paramedic can be stressful, not in the way you think, like having people die or going to car accidents, which in my experience is a really small percentage of the calls that we do.

In the smaller communities like where I work, your on call for 4 days, (96 hours) and then you get 4 days off. So a 4 on and 4 off rotation.

So for each day of those 4 days, we spend 3 hours at the hall doing “Core Duties” whatever they may be, inventory, cleaning, keeping the base clean. Or just sitting around on your phone catching up on Facebook or whatever social media sites your on. The main purpose of the core duties outside of cleaning is to have 3 hours a day with a 90 second response time to a call. So your pager goes off. And in 90 seconds your driving to the call. The other 21 hours of the day were “On Call” so we go home with our radio and when the radio goes off we have 8 minutes to be en route to whatever call were going to. We call this the “Core / Flex” system.

This means our radios are going off at any time during the day and night. Be it 1 am, 3 am, 5 am or every 2 hours all night long. It happens

Humans aren’t meant to be up all day and work all night so that means were battling fatigue when were working all night and have to keep going for another 1 or 2 or 3 more days.

I’m finding a lot of people not related to EMS has no idea “Core/Flex” was even a thing, and they find it difficult to grasp that something like that is even legal. Unfortunately being a Paramedic means your not exactly looked at with the same rules as other professions. Because were an “Essential Service”

We used to work doing 10 hour day shifts and 14 hour night shifts. Many many years ago, until AHS came into the picture. They said moving us to a Core Flex system will save them money, even tho that means pur response time to the community will fall from 90 seconds to 8 minutes.

It’s crazy to think about that being Ok. But the Ambulance service is a Business and they treat it as such. The fact that someone would benefit having an ambulance within 2 minutes over 8 isnt a consideration baffles me some days.

So what does this mean? Long hours means your probably not eating healthy, your probably not exercising, not getting enough rest (ALL factors that doctors say are what you need to reduce stress)

All this I just talked about, our shift work, is just a small part about what regular stresses we deal with on a regular Basis, 1 of many contributing factors to mental illness and PTSD and stress in general. I’m sure I’ll touch up on more factors in later posts as to talk about them all would make this too long to read.

But for now, I must sign off and get ready for work, I picked up a night shift in another community working for AHS. (I also work Part Time for AHS on my days off from my regular position)

Here is to it being an uneventful Thanksgiving Night for the community in which I’m working tonight.


Photo used done by “Dansun Photos”

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