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The importance of mental well-being

Mental well-being can be severely impacted by the demands of work and it is critical for us all to find ways to relax. Those employed in high-stress environments like emergency medical response need to make extra sure they are on their best form in order to deliver vital support.

With October being Mental Health Awareness Month, we find out how some ER24 employees cope with the often-stressful demands of their jobs, create healthy balance in their lives and find the calm in the storm.

Working out the stress

Nthabiseng Raluswinga, a quality assessor in the ER24 Contact Centre who also takes emergency calls when necessary to support the team, has found exercise to be her mental and physical saviour: “Going to the gym and working out is my way of destressing and releasing. It has become a lifestyle, a hobby for me, and I gym four to five times a week, doing aerobics classes. Emotionally, it can be very hard to deal with the emergency calls, but reviewing the cases afterwards and seeing that ER24 paramedics took care of the patient really helps.”

While she and her Contact Centre colleagues are in the business of saving lives, they also make an effort to keep the work environment positive, using fun activities like competitions to unwind and unite employees. “Because I am interested in fitness, I’m holding an aerobics ‘do it challenge’ where I will do a mini routine and the colleague who does it the best will win a prize. Coming up, we also have a Halloween dress-up event and a movie night to engage the team and release the silly side,” says Nthabiseng.

Nthabiseng Raluswinga finds aerobics helps bring balance to her life.


Tranquillity through creativity

Alan Rudnicki, an intermediate life support practitioner at ER24 in Milnerton, Cape Town, has 31 years’ experience working in the emergency medical services environment and has found his own coping mechanisms to offset the intensity of his job.

“We experience a lot of sadness, horror and tragedy in our daily work but a lot of positive things too, like resuscitating people and delivering babies. If you let all the negativity eat you, you won’t be able to do your work. You have to have the right personality for this work and enjoy interacting with people, and it’s vital to have a pastime that brings you tranquillity,” he says.

For Allan, that pastime is photography and sharing his images on social media. “Photography is my main escape. I am in my happy zone spending hours at Kirstenbosch Gardens, photographing birds, bees and flowers. That is my ‘get away’ from work. Being at the beach is also very soothing for me after a hectic shift, as well as hiking,” he says.

Alan says the debriefing that he and his ER24 team do after a stressful call-out is also very beneficial in helping them deal with the experience.

Olive thrush portrait by Alan Rudnicki. For Alan, relaxation comes from nature photography.


Connecting with nature

Venolia Ngozo – a trainer for one of ER24’s Contact Centres, the Mediclinic Engagement Centre – has more than eight years’ operational and product specialist development experience in this high-pressure environment.

Exercise is what keeps this former bungee jumper relaxed, refreshed and able to cope: “I’m a product specialist, working across a few areas, so work can be quite hectic. To offset set this, I hike. Walking in nature allows you to witness a thousand miracles,” says Venolia. “I would definitely recommend hiking to everyone. It is peaceful, fresh and opens me up to other things I didn’t know existed in nature. The peace allows me to reflect on life and self-introspect. The challenges experienced in a hike also make me realise how strong I am. I felt like a winner after completing the Amphitheatre to Cathedral Peak hike in the Drakensberg!”

Venolia also keep her mind fresh by being creative in her spare time. She describes her small sideline business making all-natural soy candles, linen and room mist, and reed diffusers as an exciting part of her life.

“Through candle-making, I have learnt the art of patience, focus and understanding. Family life is also very important for me and doing ‘power hour’ with my three boys every evening is the perfect time to be a kid again. The support I get from my husband at home is amazing and is a big plus for me,” she says.

Hiking brings peace and clarity to Venolia Ngozo, pictured here on the Boskloof Trail near Clarens.

Cooking for calm

For ER24 Secunda paramedic Thami Jack Dyoyi, ensuring he ‘switches off’ after work is very important.

“I love what I am doing now and would not change my job for anything, even though it can be quite intense. I try to lead a balanced life and make a clear distinction between working and relaxing when I am off duty,” says Thami. “Our work can be quite hectic as we are often the first ones at a scene. After particularly traumatic call-outs, like a shooting for example, we always debrief as a team. Talking it out as colleagues really helps us process what we have experienced, teaches us how we could improve in future and brings some relief. Mental health is very important in our line of work.”

What also helps him stay calm and focussed is preparing food after work. “I am a person who really likes to cook and listen to music, both of which really help me to relax. My aunt has been my main inspiration in the kitchen. From when I was young, she showed me how to cook and really encouraged me. My colleagues all know how much I love to cook because I often bring food to share at work and they complain when I don’t bring any!” says Thami.

Thami says he and his colleagues also discuss the shows they watch on TV or the internet, including medical documentaries and series like 911. “Watching such shows helps us to relax and we even learn some things in the process, like new approaches to handling specific situations.”

Work support

 To help look after employees’ mental well-being, ER24 has a number of approaches which go beyond a ‘social check-in’, says ER24 Chief Medical Officer Dr Robyn Holgate.

“ER24 staff operate in a pre-hospital environment, which can be very, very stressful. Every day they are coping with the unknown,” she says. “We have trauma support and debriefing, so that after every stressful, challenging call and major incident, our branch managers can debrief the team involved to help them process their experience.”

ER24 also has a full-time trauma support team, which is available to assist those needing to debrief beyond that, and an employee well-being helpline for any staff needing support or assistance.

“We are constantly looking at ways to improve our employee support offerings from a well-being perspective and will be rolling out some exciting approaches, including a meditation initiative,” says Robyn. “Mental health is one of the most critical things nowadays, with all the stresses people face in their jobs and personal lives. We want our staff to know that we are there for them and can assist if they need anything to help them cope.”

A mindful approach

Meditation is a fantastic way to calm one’s mind and find mental serenity through reduced stress, anxiety, depression, anger and other mental health issues. ER24 Corporate Sales Manager Coleen Daniel, an advocate for meditation, says: “I have been practising meditation for number of years and find that by taking the time for myself I am able to let go of the negative and to centre myself in a place of positive energy. By meditating on a regular basis we prevent stresses from entering the bodily system and release pent up stress, allowing us to enjoy the natural state of being which is joy.”