World Mental Health Day – A focus on emergency service professionals

Date Published : October 10th, 2018    Published By : admin

'Emergency staff are the people that are there to hold the hand of loved ones who are left behind and they themselves need to be supported in that role' - Dr. Conor Deasy

Today is World Mental Health Day, a day of awareness and support for those suffering from, or who are close to suffering from mental health issues. The Department of Health has designated this year’s theme as “young people and mental health in a changing world”, with a focus on raising awareness among adolescents and young adults of ways to look after their mental health.

Report by Declan Keogh
In addition to this year’s theme, we here at Emergency Timesis also thinking about all those emergency medical service professionals, the firefighters, gardaí, searchers, rescuers and defenders; those on the front-line, in the background or those behind the scenes, who on every day of their working lives, will come face to face with the harsh reality of today’s struggles and fight for survival.

In yesterday’s Budget, additional resources were allocated to mental health services, bringing the total allocation to almost €1 billion.

Minister for Health Simon Harris TD said: "We all have a role as citizens in terms of promoting positive mental health and resilience. Let’s take the opportunity this week to renew our efforts in this regard."

During the recent EMS Gathering 2018 in Cork, I interviewed Doctor Conor Deasy, ED Consultant in Emergency Medicine at Cork University Hospital and Deputy Medical Director of the National Ambulance Service.

Among many of the topics we discusses, mental health and dealing with incidents brought on by issue relating to mental health were also discussed. I asked Dr. Deasy what effect can these situations have on emergency service personnel who are faced with them daily.

‘In relation to mental health and the devastating, heart-breaking places it can bring so many people of all ages, emergency medical service professionals see the raw grief that families endure when a loved one is in their darkest place or when a suicide attempt is made. They’re first on the scene, attempting to resuscitate that person and they’re the people that are there to hold the hand of loved ones who are left behind and they themselves need to be supported in that role.’

Often, we have a focus on the technical skills, getting down and doing chest compressions, providing bag-valve-mask ventilations, using defibrillators when in fact where there is an equal if not greater need is the actual support of that EMS person, of that family’s kindness and compassion and these are possible to learn also.”

Dr Conor Deasy on Mental Health Day
Dr. Conor Deasy at EMS Gathering in Cork. (Photo: Declan Keogh / Emergency Times)

I asked Dr. Deasy is it enough to offer empathy during a debrief back at based or are emergency personnel getting the training and support they need?

“No, it’s not, and it is possible to teach empathy, it is possible to teach emotional intelligence and we’re moving into that space now, for example, in terms of this year’s EMS Gathering, in one workshop we dealt with those situations, compassion with competence, ‘One chance to do it right’ was the title of the session. In that session we simulated a resuscitation of a young man, and the paramedic breaking the news to his wife. We had a workshop that deals with just that, we got experts in to facilitate that workshop, people who have done masters and PhD’s in the area and who are across the globe in literature when it comes to those situations and it forms the best practice when it comes to that type of activity and that’s a fundamental part of what’s it’s like to become a frontline provider.”

Most emergency services have a support mechanism in place to support heir personnel and volunteers during crisis and critical situations and in most cases, a Critical Incident Stress Management CISM service is used.

Critical Incident Stress Management, or CISM, is an intervention protocol developed specifically for dealing with traumatic events. It was first developed for use with military combat veterans and then civilian first responders such as gardaí, fire, ambulance, emergency workers and disaster rescuers and it has now been adapted and used virtually everywhere there is a need to address traumatic impact in people’s lives.

It is a formal, highly structured and professionally recognised process for helping those involved in a critical incident to share their experiences, vent emotions, learn about stress reactions and symptoms and given referral for further help if required. It is not psychotherapy. It is a confidential, voluntary and educative process, sometimes called 'psychological first aid'.

Minister for Mental Health Jim Daly today said: "Meeting our young people where they are is vitally important, and so this week I have announced a number of new initiatives around the use of e-mental health and digital technologies, including a number of pilot programmes for tele-counselling; a dedicated mental health telephone number and crisis text service. I have also confirmed new funding for community led youth mental health initiatives and I hope that this new investment will continue to build mental resilience for young people in Ireland.

"I would encourage people to visit the new website, which provides a significantly improved experience for those seeking mental health information, supports and services. People can now find personalised support options through a search tool that generates information on online resources, telephone and face-to-face services relevant to a wide range of mental health issues including depression, anxiety and stress."

For more on Mental Health Awareness, visit

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