When stressful events at work built up to the point where paramedic Neil felt he couldn't cope, a colleague was there to look out for him.
I was diagnosed with depression 15 or 16 years ago. I went through counselling and thought everything was sorted. Then, just over three years ago, my personality began to change dramatically.
I was moody, I was down, I was being woken up by my dreams two or three times a night and I was having flashbacks throughout the day. It got to a point where I woke up angry, because I was tired and knew these flashbacks were going to happen periodically throughout the day. When they did happen, I became tearful, angry and aggressive. I somehow managed to keep doing my job, but it was awful.
It related to a number of stressful events I had witnessed on the road; small things that built up and up inside me until it got the point where I couldn't cope anymore.
A colleague who I worked most closely with was brilliant. She used to keep an eye on me and go out of her way to pick me up whenever I was having a bad time. I also spoke to my manager and my doctor. My manager referred me for some counselling and my doctor referred me to a mental health specialist, who revealed my problems were related to PTSD.
I did three months of eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). It has come over from America, where they use it to treat military veterans who are suffering from PTSD. It is the weirdest sensation I have ever had, but it worked.
Talking to my colleague probably saved my life.
Having the chance to open up to someone was the beginning of a process that ended with me being correctly diagnosed and treated for the mental health problem I was living with. Before then, I was stuck in a vicious cycle of darkness that had destroyed my marriage, terminated some other close relationships and led me to contemplate suicide.
A few people have talked to me about their mental health problems since. One colleague asked me to explain what I'd been through. I told him about the trouble I'd had with my sleep patterns and he revealed that he had experienced dreams that woke him up in the middle of the night too. I told him it might be worth speaking to an expert and you could see the cogs starting to turn in his head.
The statistics show that there is a massive burn out rate among paramedics and I am sorry to say that I personally know of half-a-dozen paramedics who have committed suicide. I don't know why they committed suicide, but I now wonder if the job may have had something to do with it. That is why I am doing all I can to remove the fear that stops my colleagues saying "Hold on, I have a problem."
When I first started, the workload wasn't as great as it is now, so I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to colleagues over a cup of tea in the mess room. Today, the demands of the job mean that there is very little opportunity to do that, but my aim is to make conversations about mental wellbeing commonplace.
There is still a very strong stigma regarding mental health. A lot of paramedics take the 'live with it and get on with it' approach because they think they will let people down and be viewed as being weak if they reveal they have a mental health problem. I want people who are going through what I went through to know that there is someone they can talk to and that there is a way out.
This information was published in May 2015. We will revise it in 2018.