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BBC ‘Ambulance’ star calls for NHS staff to open up about mental health

A star of the current series of the BBC One documentary ‘Ambulance’ is calling on emergency service workers to be more open about their mental health and not be afraid to access the help they need.

Adam and Orani in back of an ambulance
Adam and Orani

In the eighth episode of ‘Ambulance’, airing this Wednesday (4 November), viewers see the emotional impact on London Ambulance Service staff and volunteers dealing with traumatic situations and how they depend on each other to help handle the difficult things they see and hear on a daily basis.

London Ambulance Service medic Adam, who suffers from depressive episodes and periods of low moods, wants emergency service staff and volunteers not to feel embarrassed to talk openly about their wellbeing and to seek the help if they need it.

Adam said: “Reaching out is the hardest thing to do, but it’s also the most liberating thing to do and I encourage anyone to reach out for help when they need it.

“We’re always the ones that people rely on for help – but we really must make sure we look after ourselves and one another first so we can keep on responding to our patients’ with the greatest care possible.”

In episode eight we see Adam and his crewmate, Orani, respond to a woman suffering from addiction. Later, when back in the ambulance the experience of treating this patient affects Adam quite deeply and he unearths memories of his grandfather’s struggle with addiction over many years.

Orani and Adam next to an ambulance with Tower Bridge in background
Orani and Adam.

It’s here that we see the support that Adam and Orani give each other and the close friendship they have formed over two years working together.

Adam said: “I see Orani more than I see any other person in my life. We have known each other long enough to know our moods and we are able to understand when it’s the right time to talk things through, but also when it’s not.”

As well as the support that the crewmates give each other, Adam also has two other important parts of his life that help him deal with some of the difficult aspects of the job – his partner and their dog. Adam who lives in Wanstead met his partner Dr Sam Ashley (31) while he was working as a doctor in A&E.

Adam said: “Having someone who understands my job, much like a crew mate, is invaluable. He’ll understand why my mood and behaviours are fluctuating, understands again when I want to talk and when I don’t but most importantly welcomes me with a hug and a kiss when I need it most.”

Their Cockapoo, Sirius, also provides Adam with much needed emotional support after long shifts. Adam said: “When I come home and walk through the door, he is always so happy to see me – so even if I am not in the best frame of mind, he helps to pick me up.

Adam's dog Sirius with an LAS shirt on
Adam’s dog Sirius

“Without both of them I’d be in a much worse state when I’m feeling unwell.”

Results from London Ambulance Service’s staff survey last year showed that over half of staff across the Service admitted that they felt unwell due to work related stress in 2019.

Understanding the pressures that come with the job, the ambulance service has in place a wide range of resources to support staff and volunteers including a counselling service, a strong peer support network
and an independent support line for anyone who has concerns about their emotional wellbeing. After difficult incidents staff also gather together to debrief and talk through what has happened, allowing them the opportunity to reflect and reach out for further support if they need it.

Adam, who uses the counselling service provided by The Ambulance Staff Charity (TASC), said: “I actually found the process of reaching out for help when I was at my lowest came as an invigorating relief, and it really helped to bring me back from that point a little bit.

“We all need a little help sometimes. That’s why it is so important for anyone – not just ambulance staff and volunteers – to talk about what they’re going through, so they can get help to access the support that they need.”

In the eighth episode of ‘Ambulance’ we get a glimpse behind the sirens and see the emotional demand of the job as ambulance crews and control room staff respond to Londoners in need. Crewmates Abi and Ben are called to a passenger on a bus that has been stabbed in the throat. We also follow Kieran and Mick as they treat an elderly patient after a fall at home.

Faye McGuinness, Head of Workplace Wellbeing Programmes at Mind, says:

“Programmes like ‘Ambulance’ give viewers a rare glimpse into the pressures our NHS staff face daily in order to keep the nation safe and well, all from the comfort of our sofas. It’s great to see paramedics like Adam open up about their mental health as we know that too often, our hardworking 999 staff struggle in silence.

“As part of Mind’s Blue Light Programme of support for emergency services staff and volunteers, our survey found that common misconceptions about 999 workers being invincible and self-stigma could prevent workers asking for help with their mental health. Yet the unique pressures of the role can actually increase the risk of poor mental health. When you add in the impact of dealing with the pandemic and winter pressures, you can see why we urgently need to invest in the wellbeing of our health and social care staff.

“In April, Mind recognised the greater need to support all our key workers who were risking their health and wellbeing on a daily basis to keep the country safe and running throughout the pandemic. Along with Samaritans, Shout, Hospice UK and with support from The Royal Foundation, we launched Our Frontline, a combination of 1-21 support and online resources available 24 hours a day for all key workers, including NHS and emergency services.”

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