September Is Suicide Awareness Month
This past year, nearly every EMS conference featured one or more sessions related to the mental health of EMS professionals. This November in Las Vegas, the American Ambulance Association Annual Conference & Trade Show will feature several sessions that will perform a reverse case analysis of PTSD and other mental health conditions affecting members of our profession. It is wonderful to see this issue being brought to the forefront given how many years the culture was to “toughen up”.
This Friday begins Suicide Awareness Month. Awareness for mental health issues is at an all-time high in EMS but we still have a long way to go. Just two weeks ago we lost yet another Paramedic in my community to suicide and the numbers are rising. According to a study conducted by Fitch & Associates as part of the Ambulance Service Managers Program, mental health struggles and depression among fire and EMS professionals are widespread, more than 10 times that of the average American. However, a survey conducted by the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) revealed that the majority of respondents stated that they were dissatisfied with the mental health services available through their employer and that most respondents were too afraid to use the services for confidentiality concerns.
As a profession, we need enhance our efforts to remove the negative stigmatism connected to mental health issues in EMS. As part of our efforts over the next month and beyond, be sure to make mental health part of the daily conversation. Regularly broadcast the mental health services that are available through your employer sponsored health plan or as part of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If your ambulance service does not currently offer EAP, the AAA provides free access EAP from Ceridian LifeWorks as part of your AAA membership.
Last year the EEOC published a guidance reminding employers of their obligation to not discriminate against individuals with mental health issues. In addition, it is important to remember that an employee’s mental health condition can meet the definition of a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In those instances, an employer will have an obligation to enter into the interactive process to determine if they can reasonably accommodate the employee’s mental health condition. Examples of possible accommodations include altered break and work schedules (e.g., scheduling work around therapy appointments), quiet work space or devices that create a quiet work environment, changes in supervisory methods (e.g., written instructions from a supervisor who usually does not provide them), and specific shift assignments. Employers are not required to accommodate any requested work accommodations, just reasonable requests.
There are many resources available for individuals and employers that highlight resources available to anyone who may need mental health assistance for themselves or a loved one. The Action Alliance, Code Green, and NAEMT, are organizations working to raise awareness for public safety and EMS professionals. We are all looking forward to the day when PTSD, Suicide, and other mental health issues are caught early, treated appropriately, and someday prevented by regular and ongoing mental health wellness programs. Until that time, please step up your efforts during the month of September and beyond.