New paramedics at risk of poor sleep and mental health issues

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Wednesday, 12 April, 2023 - 12:15
Industry news
National News

New paramedics experience an increase in insomnia and depression during the first six months of their employment, according to recent research.

It found sleep disturbances before emergency work were identified as potential risk factors for the development of depression and PTSD among paramedics in the early stages of their careers.

The research also found that new recruits who already experienced higher insomnia symptoms before starting their careers as paramedics were more likely to have higher depression symptoms after six months.

The joint Monash University and Ambulance Victoria study, published in the journal Sleep, investigated whether poor sleep pre-exposure to paramedic work increases the risk of future mental health outcomes.

“The transition into full-time shift work and emergency work is a challenging period for new recruits,” said Dr Alexander Wolkow, senior author and research fellow in psychology at Monash University.

“The demanding nature of emergency work routinely exposes personnel to potentially traumatic events, placing these workers at high risk of mental health issues.

“Early interventions that target poor sleep in paramedic students and new recruits may potentially offer some protection against them developing mental health problems, particularly in those first few months at work, but further research is urgently needed in this area.”

Elle Nguyen from Monash University’s Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health was a lead author for the study, and said past research had found the prevalence of insomnia, along with other sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnoea and mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and PTSD, were higher among Australian paramedics when compared to the general population.

“These issues may contribute to high turnover among emergency service personnel and may be preventable,” she said.

Compared to other emergency services such as firefighters and police, prior research reports that paramedics have increased rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and experience high levels of depression and anxiety.

Ambulance Victoria paramedic, Monash Paramedicine researcher and co-author Dr Ben Meadley said Ambulance Victoria recognised the challenging nature of shift work, especially during the first years of a paramedic’s career.

“We support our new recruits with additional supervision and training in their first two years. With the help of a clinical instructor, graduate paramedics undertake further clinical study and on-road training to transition from the classroom to the community, he said.

“This research helps us better understand the challenges paramedics face, and what we can do to further enhance the support services we provide to ensure our staff are healthy and have a long and fulfilling career serving our communities.”

The study examined 101 participants between August 2018 and December 2020. Participants were recruited into the study and completed an assessment before starting work as a paramedic.

These same participants were assessed again after approximately six months of work as a paramedic. At each assessment, participants completed an online sleep and mental health survey. They also wore a wearable device that measured sleep and completed a self-report sleep diary.