Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Emergency Services (Part 3) - Professional Resilience

27 Jan 2020 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

I was part of a discussion forum recently addressing a group of entry-level students, entry level to the health service that is. They were asking our multi-professional group about how to become mentally stronger and best prepare themselves for the ‘horrors’ that they may face in the future… 

Now I thought this line of questioning was really interesting. The group weren’t made up of college-leavers or snow-flakes as some might think, it was   made up of a combination of great humans from all   walks of life, and all sorts of backgrounds, from across   a fairly wide age-range. But they still had a fear of how they might cope – a fear that some suggested had come from a position of ignorance: via the television and social media who have told them that it’s tough out there - so obviously, it must be tough out there! And their questioning turned to me (as the Paramedic in the line-up) as I have obviously faced the worst horrors of all, and as such must be so much more resilient. They assumed that nothing could affect me! 

Granted, certain professional elements are exposed to reality much more than others – that cannot be denied, and as emergency service personnel we are all at the sharp end of life’s worst-case scenarios with very little option of where turn to next. But the most interesting comment that came out of the discussion was this one:  

“…can you be professionally resilient and still care?” 

Wow, that one threw me! So, I got to thinking about what we traditionally see as resilience and thought of these examples: being able to deal with a sad situation without crying; coping with death without it making you think; seeing traumatic situations without being overcome with shockdealing with circumstances without becoming emotionally embroiled; being able to leave the jobs we’ve done on shift in our locker when we go home…

It was mainly the final one that made me realise that the answer to the question is simply “yes, we can still care”. It’s about striking a balance. It’s about them and us. It’s about limiting the risk of psychological trauma by having ready-made coping mechanisms that work for us while we do our job in the best way we can for others. It’s about recognising the places we can go to speak safely about the work we do for those who need us. It’s about bringing some personal calm to the professional chaos. 

So yes, we can care – we can be humans and at the same time we can do our jobs. There’s no need to put on a mask, to brave it up, to pretend everything is okay. The service-users we face in these situations sometimes want to know we care, so why try and switch from being a professional to be a real person, when the best professional  is a real person? 

Remember, it’s okay to not be okay… 

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