David, a paramedic, writes about his experience of mental health problems and his plans for helping other front-line personnel.
I've been in the ambulance service for over 11 yrs. I had always wanted to be a paramedic.
I was having trouble at work – it was stressful and I was experiencing lots of mood swings. My marriage broke down after 19 years, and added to that were the financial aspects of being left to pay the bills and the mortgage on a single salary.
It all piled on top of me. I went to the GP and was diagnosed with depression and referred to the local mental health team. I have been with them ever since. Over the years we've been trying to find the right combination of drugs to work for my depression. We did eventually after five attempts.
Something has to give, and it's always the person, it's never the job.
I went back to work and suffered a physical collapse – I passed out, and was unconscious for a few minutes. After that I began a downwards spiral; I went off sick again and this time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
I come from a forces background, and a lot of people in the services are the same. You bury your feelings deep, and sometimes you have to do that to deal with the job. You just carry on regardless, and it reaches a critical point where your brain and your body say "no more". Something has to give, and it's always the person, it's never the job.
You try and compartmentalise everything you do – you go to nasty jobs and you try and leave it behind. But you've got your own stresses on top of that, your own mental health – it makes the job extremely hard, and sometimes too hard to do.
Having someone to talk to who has been through that, and who can appreciate the signs and symptoms [...] can be a huge help.
The occupational health service we had access to was a helpline. You can get appointments weeks down the line to go and see somebody, but sometimes weeks are too long, days are too long. Sometimes you have do just do something about it and you're trying to protect your job, to bring money in, to protect your own mental health and ability to function, and the stresses are just too major.
I am starting my own charity, called Siren, for front-line personnel. I want to help staff who are off with depression and anxiety to be able to talk about it. I wanted to create somewhere where these people can have a voice.
Sometimes just having someone to talk to who has been through that, and who can appreciate the signs and symptoms and early warning signs of depression and mental illness, can be a huge help. There is no reason for someone's mental health to deteriorate as rapidly or as severely as it would have done untreated.
If we manage to save one life it's worth it, isn't it?
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