With a 17-year career as a paramedic working in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Allen Pruden has experienced more than his fair share of trauma.
After trying to keep it together on his own for most of that time, he eventually found the stress too much to bear.
“Things started to mount up,” Pruden said. “I was starting to have a few problems and I had to take some time off from work.”
Fortunately, a paramedics resilience course had just been introduced by BC Emergency Health Services to help first responders come to terms with, and better handle, post-traumatic stress disorder and its symptoms.
With support from his union, Pruden became one of the first applicants to the program, and he said it made a big difference.
“I’m a better person for it, and I found myself a stronger paramedic because of it.”
According to the BC Coroner’s Service, nearly four British Columbians are losing their lives to overdoses every day.
With numbers like that, paramedics are often finding themselves going from one call to the next, rarely with a break in between to process what they’re seeing.
That level of stress can increase the likelihood of paramedics reaching their breaking point — even while on the job.
“It could be anything,” Pruden said about possible triggers. “It could be that you’ve just gone to too many car crashes. You’ve gone to too many shootings or stabbings. Too many heart attacks.
“Everybody’s different. There’s more of a cumulative effect to a lot of the stresses that we see.”
So far, 500 of B.C.’s 4,000 paramedics, dispatchers and call takers have gone through the resilience course.
Linda Lupini of BC Emergency Health Services hopes that number only increases, but admits there’s still a long road ahead.
“There are still people that are worried about telling people they need help, and that’s why we want to be proactive.”
That proactive approach includes sending a phone call to paramedics after they’ve responded to a particularly traumatic call.
Out of 700 calls made last year, about half resulted in counselling.
“I’ve had that call a few times, and sometimes you’re like, ‘No, I’m fine,'” Pruden said. “But other times I’ll say, ‘You know what, thanks. Thanks for the call.’
“Sometimes that call itself is all it takes, just to know that someone else truly has your back.”
More information on the paramedics resilience course can be found here.