I recently moved to the Service from North West Ambulance Service. In 2018 I won an ITV NHS Heroes Award after setting up the a Campaign that helps those in his profession suffering from PTSD. I am also the author of 999: My Life on the Frontline of the ambulance service and a fellowship of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.
I have recently transferred into SAS as a Paramedic from another service where I have worked for 15 years. The plan was to move up and start a new chapter in life, this was quickly changed by the covid-19 pandemic as I am in Scotland and the kids are still back in England. Thankfully, the wonders of FaceTime and Skype have helped us to keep in touch, more recently as the children’s mum is now classed as an essential worker, I have had to start traveling back to take care of the kids whilst she works. I’m not alone in this I know a lot of us are making sacrifices at the moment – which can be tough on us as individuals. A number of years ago I attended an incident which changed my life, it was a call to a child that had significant injuries, who sadly died. Following the incident, I felt withdrawn, alone and didn’t know where to turn. Mental health was a taboo subject and the term health and wellbeing hadn’t even been conceived. When I tried to seek help, I was asked to consider if this job was really for me. I am pleased to say I didn’t even consider it – throwing in the towel was not an option. After a rocky road of getting into a deeper and darker place I eventually received support via my own GP who put me in touch with an amazing counsellor. The day I met my counsellor I instantly felt supported and that the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. After a number of months, I started to feel like a new person, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress disorder, I still live with elements of it today – but in a much more controlled way. Following my PTSD diagnosis, I knew things had to change. I have been lucky enough to work with the Royal Family on the Heads Together mental health programme and won the NHS Heroes Award on ITV for my support to colleagues as a Mental Health Champion. As you would imagine I have a huge passion and interest in how we as colleagues and the organisation support each other not just on a day to day basis but when things get tough. Over the last week I have had many interesting conversations with members of the senior management team within SAS, offering my support and help in supporting colleagues and with our services approach to health and wellbeing. Despite the obstacles that recent times have imposed on all of us, the team are working as hard as they can to roll out new and exciting programmes to support us all. Now, I must admit I am often very critical about how services support us and question whether its just an answer to a tick box exercise – from what I can see this far, I’m pleased to report it doesn’t feel like that, it’s a genuine attempt to support us. The best thing is that we are all invited to play a part in designing what we want as frontline staff, whether that be in an Ambulance, in the Control Room, Workshops or Finance department – we are all welcomed and encouraged to get involved and make suggestions. Visit http://www.formwize.com/run/survey3.cfm?idx=505d04080b0b0100 There are long term and short-term issues that need to addressed, but mid pandemic the team are looking to support the here and now. In the future they want this to grow into bigger and better things. Over the next few weeks the team are working on different themes, this week’s theme being Resilience.
So, what is resilience, is it another corporate term? Well when I was diagnosed with PTSD eventually, I learnt to see the time I was low as a positive experience. I even started to call my diagnosis post traumatic resilience, because the whole experience has made me a stronger person, more aware of mine and my colleagues mental health and ultimately it made me a stronger person. That is RESILIENCE. But the good news is we don’t all have to go through a really bad time to improve our resilience, there are lots of techniques we can do on a day to day basis. In the past I have presented to groups discussing resilience, one of my first questions is ‘what are the qualities of your closest friends, that make you cherish them’? Often there are varying answers but every time the some of the same answers come through, these are: Accepting, Non-Judgemental, Loyal and Respectful – to name but a few. I then ask the group when was the last time you showed these qualities to yourself? It’s normally at this point when the penny drops amongst the group, that we are often too hard on ourselves, we wouldn’t be this critical with friends, we would support them. Understanding this principle is the first step to resilience, there are many more things we can do to increase our resilience, some of which are being uploaded to the @SAS intranet site. However, some other top tips include:
Be kind to yourself. Take care of your body and mind through things like good nutrition, exercise and practices such as mindfulness and keep active; talk about the things that are bothering you and take regular breaks to disconnect and recharge.
Secondly, consciously notice your thoughts and feelings and don’t try to suppress the uncomfortable ones – recognise that they’re all equally part of being human, alongside the good ones! Aim to keep things in perspective and cultivate a habit of seeing positives and learning from your experiences; and
Finally, social support is critical for resilience so stay connected to friends, family and colleagues and know that you are never on your own.
But one thing we must realise is that despite working for an emergency service, we are all human, the uniform is not a suit of armour. We may be fine mentally or we may not – but working for the Scottish Ambulance Service is like being part of a large family, look out for yourself and each other.
Remember - there is always someone to talk to, its ok not to be ok.