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Perceptions and experiences of mental health support for ambulance employees

02 July 2022
Volume 14 · Issue 7



Mental ill health among ambulance staff is widespread. Evidence suggests that, with the right support, employees experiencing mental ill health can continue to work, symptom severity can be reduced and suicide prevented.


To investigate ambulance staff perceptions and experiences of organisational mental health support.


A cross-sectional online survey investigated work-related stressful life events and their potential psychological impact. The survey also examined staff perceptions and experiences of organisational support and acceptability of a proposed wellbeing intervention offering mandatory time to talk at work.


A total of 540 ambulance staff responded. The majority reported having experienced work-related stressful life events (n=444; 82%). Associated psychological symptoms appeared to persist for years. Perceptions about organisational support related to support uptake. Stigma, fear and embarrassment were reported as barriers to disclosure and help-seeking. Mandatory time to talk at work would be acceptable (n=400; 74%).


The association between work-related stressful events and psychological symptoms underscores the need for interventions supported at an organisation level.

Death by suicide among ambulance staff is rising and mental ill health symptoms are widespread (Mars et al, 2020). Increasing professional responsibilities, continual demand for emergency medical services and the COVID-19 pandemic have further increased the risk of mental ill health (Greenberg et al, 2020).

Ambulance staff across the globe provide emergency and urgent care, saving lives and managing medical crises. Frontline positions such as paramedic, emergency dispatch and call-taker personnel provide communication, coordinate response and manage direct patient care. An array of non-frontline roles including cleaning teams, mechanics and human resource personnel support the frontline response. Managerial teams provide frontline clinical aid.

Ambulance employees are regularly exposed to emergencies that could arouse intense distress, which may need to be suppressed to enable the delivery of patient care (Jonsson et al, 2003). Whether exposure is primary (face to face, as when a paramedic is on scene), vicarious (through an emergency call taken by the emergency call-taker) or secondary (managing the aftermath such as cleaning teams removing blood and matter from ambulances), detachment and dissociation are common coping mechanisms (Clompus and Albarran, 2016).

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