Our Uniform Is Not Armour.

I’m a graduate but unlike most others, I start work on the frontline in just a few months. Being a student is hard, there’s a lot of change and responsibilities constantly being thrown at you, and that’s before you even consider the pressures of your social life at university. But when you’re training to be part of the emergency services there are different obstacles along the way.

Being in the emergency services is a unique occupation, it throws a multitude of emotions at you within the space of hours, even minutes at times. Coping with these demanding changes can be extremely difficult. Not just those in the public sector can face these sorts of issues, but everyone’s life contains a huge mix of emotions and it’s hard to understand how to process these. This is how my mental health deteriorated. I just couldn’t cope with the changes and mass of feelings I was experiencing, and I felt that no one else would understand. But I later realised this was not the case.

Being on the frontline is an incredible privilege but one that comes with great responsibility. We as the public trust those in the emergency services with our lives; but when you’re placed on the opposite side and that duty is yours, it can have a huge impact on your mental well-being.

Mental well-being fluctuates and I feel a large proportion of coping with so many feelings can be down to accepting this. Those working in the emergency services face obstacles and sights that many others never have to experience. I believed before I started training, that there was an expectation for those on the frontline to be immune to such horrendous experiences and it was “just part of the job”. But now, three years later, I understand that this way of viewing paramedics, police officers and firefighters is simply not acceptable. Every single person who trains to work in the public sector is human. Why should we be treated differently?

During my training, I initially felt unable to express my feelings about a patient I had attended. Every emergency worker will have a type of job that might cause more intense emotions than any other. For me, it’s any patients that remind me of a personal loss I experienced during my training period and this was a large trigger for my anxiety. Therefore, this has made me extremely sensitive to certain patients. I had such an intense fear that I would encounter the same accident whilst working, that I became so fixated on this anxiety before every shift. It must be understood that for one person, their worst job could simply be going to an elderly person who reminds them of their grandparents, but for others, it could be something else entirely. One of my biggest concerns is that this anxiety could be the same for so many NHS and public sector workers, yet they are afraid to speak up. Perhaps we all live in some state of fear of encountering our own worst nightmare. How we deal with and understand these anxieties should be the same, no matter our opinion on their foundation. They should be dealt with compassionately and with respect instead of judgement over an individual’s vulnerability.

The stigma of Mental Health needs to be altered to enable those within high-pressure jobs to express their feelings without being judged. The immense change we have seen over the last few years concerning NHS workers mental health has been incredible and this makes me optimistic for our future. But the change must continue, we are nowhere near where we need to be to ensure appropriate support is in place for every emergency service worker. My own mental health is improving, I have learnt that I do not need to pretend that the work I do does not affect me. I am human and the jobs I face are challenging physically and mentally. My colleagues do not pass judgement but purely offer support as they too have encountered the unimaginable.

I am so proud to be able to help people on a daily basis and this is a privilege I will carry with me, however, we must all learn that mental health affects everyone, no matter how brave their job may seem.

We wear our uniform with pride but we must remember it is not armour.

IG: @bethany27norris 

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