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New study explores mental wellbeing of paramedics

A USC Australia academic who worked as a paramedic in London for 10 years after the 2005 terrorist bombings is now researching the coping strategies of people in the profession.

Lecturer in Paramedic Science Matt Warren-James, who researches at USC’s Thompson Institute, said the mental wellbeing of paramedics was an under-researched area despite the inherent stresses of the job.

“This study aims to find out about the wellbeing and coping of paramedics in Australia and internationally so we can better understand their specific needs and inform changes in work environments,” he said.

The project is led by Professor of Clinical Psychology Helen Stallman, renowned for suicide prevention research at the Thompson Institute, with USC Paramedicine colleagues Senior Lecturer Dr Lisa Clegg and Lecturer Chantal Perera, and Griffith University’s Dr Natalie Dodd.

Mr Warren-James tells his story on The Australasian College of Paramedicine’s podcast The Debrief, with Professor Stallman and Dr Clegg. He also appears in a short YouTube video about the research survey, which closes at the end of this month.

“It’s an online survey that takes about 15 minutes, and we’re looking for registered paramedics and full-time paramedicine students to tell us how they cope, what works for them personally,” he said.

Mr Warren-James, who came to Australia in 2015 to study a PhD and work as an academic at USC, said the research was vital to improve systems and cultures for people currently working as paramedics and for student paramedics preparing for their career challenges.

“I started as a paramedic just after the London bombings and noticed early on that people’s attitudes to wellbeing and coping were not well understood, not talked about,” he said on the podcast.

“Over the 10 years I found my personal wellbeing suffering, and by 2015 I knew of seven colleagues who had died by suicide. I was shocked.

“My journey, on a personal and professional level, comes from a desire to do more to help paramedics. It’s such an important subject now, given the pandemic and the issues that we face.”

Professor Stallman said the study aimed to uncover the full range of coping strategies used by paramedics in the daily lives.

“These could include taking a deep breath, eating, sleeping, alcohol, drugs, social support or professional help,” she said.

“Paramedics can be exposed to horrendous things and it’s human to have unpleasant emotions. This research is about understanding how paramedics cope, their wellbeing in their workplace and in everyday life.”

Paramedics at work - file Getty Photo
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