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How to cope with stress for a balanced lifestyle

Paramedics at ER24 East Metro share their tips

In the Western Cape, around 50 Emergency medical staff are absent at any given time due to post-traumatic stress disorder. The province has also seen a rash of requests for transfers to areas outside Cape Town, as a result of the attacks on paramedics.

This week, the Western Cape Health Department announced a total of 232 attacks on Emergency Medical Services (EMS) staff were reported between 2012 and 2016. This was revealed in a briefing by the Provincial Health Department in the Provincial Parliament.

With February being National Healthy Lifestyle Awareness Month, ER24 is encouraging all paramedics and members of the public to eat wisely, exercise and get sufficient rest to deal with high levels of stress.

Navesh Singh, branch manager of ER24 East Metro, says all staff receive counseling.

“We make sure that we do have a debriefing session, which the counselor is involved in and we make sure each person is seen to on a one-on-one basis by the counselor.”

Emergency Medical Services director, Shaheem de Vries says attacks on paramedics have led to requests for transfers to areas outside Cape Town. “I have members of staff that are under psychiatric care for depression relating to incidents that occurred years ago‚” De Vries told the media after addressing the provincial legislature about escalating attacks on paramedics.

Ryan Wills, a paramedic from ER24 East Metro says you might not always realise when you are stressed and that is when the help of counselor is beneficial.

“It’s subtle and you don’t realise it. They [the counselors] help you reflect on the past few days or months and they can help you identify how the stress has affected you.”

 How do I know if I’m suffering of PTSD?

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) arises as an immediate, delayed and/or protracted response to a traumatic or stressful event of a life threatening or catastrophic nature.
  • The person developing the disorder does not have to be the one who was directly threatened. The disorder can also develop in those that witnessed a traumatic event.
  • Examples of life-threatening traumatic events that can cause post-traumatic stress include natural disasters, serious accidents (e.g., motor car accidents) and acts of violence (e.g. physical and sexual violence).
  • The disorder tends to be more severe when the event involves deliberate human malice, as opposed to a twist of fate.
  • Symptoms such as flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, irritability, and nightmares must last for at least a month after a traumatic event for a diagnosis of PTSD to be made.
  • If symptoms do not resolve within one to two months after the traumatic event, trauma focused cognitive behaviour therapy or medication treatment can be considered

How is PTSD treated?

Not everyone who experiences trauma requires treatment. Some recover with the help of family, friends or clergy. It is important to note that having an ongoing response for a few days or even 2-3 weeks to a traumatic event is normal. Recovery is an ongoing, daily process that happens in small steps.

However, there are many who will need professional help. Identifying whether someone has PTSD can involve several steps. The diagnosis of PTSD is most often made by a mental health provider.

If you have suffered a trauma and recognise that you have symptoms of PTSD, then the following practical guidelines may be helpful:

  • If you have experienced a traumatic event it is useful to learn more about common reactions to trauma and about PTSD.
  • It is important not to isolate yourself from others, but to make an effort to talk to people that you trust who can offer concrete help and support.
  • Find activities that help you relax such as listening to music, going for walks.
  • Make sure to keep taking part in activities that you enjoy or used to enjoy.
  • Find a doctor or therapist who has experience in treating PTSD. Be honest about your experience and symptoms. If you feel that the doctor or therapist is not right for you, you have the right to find one that is. You also have the right to a second opinion.
  • Have a doctor examine you for any additional medical problems.
  • Avoid unhealthy behaviours.
  • Find a support group for people with PTSD

There are effective treatments available for PTSD. The two main types are psychotherapy (a type of counselling) and medication. It is often necessary to combine psychotherapy and medication.