EAP is designed to be an employee benefit. In EMS it has become a generic term which makes its definition and content difficult to determine. A formal EAP is structured to help employees with personal and/or work-related problems that impact job performance, health, and mental/emotional well-being. The EAP is usually free and confidential. In addition to privacy laws, ethical standards should be maintained. There are a variety of support programs that may or may not be part of the formal EAP.
Ideally an EAP offers the following:
- Direct access – the employee contacts a mental health professional directly
- Quick response – this may be defined in terms of days
- Professional – the counselors are licensed behavioral professionals
- Confidential – the employer should never know who uses the service
- Off-site – interventions take place in the mental health professional office
- Direct treatment – referrals are made only when specialist services or long-term care is required
- Appropriate coverage – a 24/7 hotline with locations in the city employees are located
The NAEMT safety course proposes that optimal mental health is achieved by the balance of our social, physical, spiritual, emotional, and economic state. Notice that EAPs address the same issues.
Examples of issues for services provided by EAPs
- Substance abuse
- Occupational stress
- Emotional stress
- Major life events (birth, accidents, death, divorce, etc.)
- Health care concerns
- Financial or non-work related legal concerns
- Family/ personal relationship issues
- Work relationship issues
- Concerns about aging parents
Access to formal EAPs may be limited to cost and the availability of mental health professionals. EMS professionals have a baseline level of stress that exceeds that of the general population. They are 2.5 times more likely to die at work, and 3 times more likely to miss work because of injury. About 15 to 20 percent of EMS personnel may experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Stress is exacerbated by the rise in violence directed at ambulance personnel. In addition to the dangers at scenes of social unrest, EMS providers are now routinely placed in the same target as law enforcement officers. The discussion of arming EMS personnel has recently been brought up, and some ambulance personnel now wear body armor.
Taking proactive approach by internalizing the responsibility for mental fitness in the same manner we do physical fitness is an option to better prepare us for dealing with both chronic and major stressors. We don’t need a physician to tell us to maintain a healthy weight, exercise, avoid tobacco products, etc. We already know it.
Do we require a mental health professional to tell us that stress, anxiety, and depression are not healthy? Yes, we do not want to self-diagnose or fail to seek professional help when metal health issues arise. However, there are resources available to help us develop preventive coping strategies. The NAEMT safety course includes the 12 resiliency skills from first response resiliency training. There are physical and behavioral skills, cognitive skills, and social skills. Working our way through these skills does not replace formal training, but is a good place to start.
There is information available in The American Psychological Association for Suicide Prevention. There are professionals available at National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), and 24-hour crisis line (319-351-3140).
Szczygiel, M. (Editor), NAEMT EMS Safety Student Manual, Burlington, MA, Jones and Bartlett Learning, 2017.
Associated EAP, accessed 07/01/16