Ian, June 10, 2019

"It’s important to remember not just to talk about mental health, but to change our behaviour as well."

Everyone has mental health. We all know some days are good and some days are bad. Negative thoughts, intrusive thoughts, our minds confused and not coping day-to-day. 

Stress, anxiety, and depression lead to other mental health problems if they are not recognised, diagnosed or treated in time. Speaking up and seeking help, and receiving it from people who care, is key to a better future.

I’ve been a Paramedic for 20 years and seen it first-hand. I piloted a mental health programme in the Midlands to reduce paramedics’ time at the patient’s location, and to reduce A&E - 999 call admissions to hospital. We offered mental health triage, support within the community, and took time to help people feel valued and listen to. Admissions for people experiencing a mental health crisis reduced from 1,700 patients per month to just 190.

Why did I get involved in this project? My eldest daughter took her own life at the age of 26 years in hospital - and I was declined time off work by my employer. Many others in my family were also diagnosed with mental health conditions – schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. And as for myself, I had unrecognised PTSD from serving in Iraq and the Chelsea bombing, saving lives at the age of 18. 

Coping with stress, anxiety and some days depression in frontline emergency care, often goes unrecognised by managers. You’re told to “Man up and get on with it!”. They don’t know how to cope with others in a time of crisis.

I helped myself by gaining a better understanding of mental health with a first aid course, and by working with the Police and Mental Health Services. I also found it helpful to talk and listen to patients, and support them while they were going through crisis. And it always is a crisis – suicidal ideation often isn’t taken seriously enough.

I became a Mind Blue Light Champion for a few years in the NHS, and more recently signed up as a Time to Change Champion with my new employer. Being a Champion is my coping mechanism, because I can think about mental health, and focus on how I can see and identify those in need. 

Three simple words we should all consider saying – “Are you OK?”.

It’s important to remember not just to talk about mental health, but to change our behaviour as well. Recognising the signs in others can be learned with the right training and experience. 

Remember – mental health is everyone’s business. For me, being a Time to Change Champion is the way forward. I’ll continue to be proactive at recognising the signs of mental health problems early in my work, and support those who need help.

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Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.