A recent survey from the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians revealed that 58 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the mental health services provided by their agency.
The 2016 NAEMT Mental Health Report surveyed 2,200 parademics, EMS managers and medical directors from all 50 states.
It also found that although 92 percent of respondents reported their EMS agency has a written policy regarding alcohol and drug use, only 26 percent provide a substance abuse program to help those struggling with dependence or addiction.
Forty-one percent of respondents reported that they did not know where to go for help within their agency if they needed it, and only 55 percent felt that their agency considered their mental health to be important.
Over three-quarters of respondents reported that their agency did not monitor the effectiveness of their mental health services.
The survey also recorded a range of comments from respondents on the subject. On the subject of substance abuse, one EMT reported that “a coworker who was off due to a substance abuse issue that he self-reported and sought help for was disciplined and given unfair benchmarks to return to work as a condition of employment.”
Other respondents also commented on their reluctance to use the mental health services that were provided. “Most of the people in my organization do not feel comfortable using any service provided by the organization for fear that the information will come back and be used against them in the future,” one said.
A separate 2015 survey by Fitch & Associates’ Ambulance Service Manager Program suggested that mental health struggles and depression among fire and EMS professionals are widespread. In the survey, 37 percent reported contemplating suicide, nearly 10 times the rate of American adults, and 6.6 percent reported having attempted suicide. That’s compared to just 0.5 percent of the general population.
In its conclusion, the NAEMT stressed that agency management and stakeholders must take action to address mental health issues and provide support to practitioners. “There is no doubt that budget restrictions will limit the ability of many EMS agencies to provide a full array of services. But there is one thing that all EMS agencies can do, regardless of finances, and that’s letting go of the idea that mental health issues are shameful or a sign of weakness,” the report said. “Managers should encourage EMS practitioners to speak up and seek help without fear of reprisal, and support them in their efforts to care for themselves, so that they can continue to take care of our patients and our nation’s communities.”