Medical flight crews are at the frontline of the COVID-19 battle. While these brave men and women are tirelessly working for the good of patients, the fact remains that it is taking an immense toll on their mental health. The working conditions have drastically changed – sanitization and donning of PPE are necessary at every step. Not just that, there is the constant fear of contracting the infection and eventually passing it on to the loved ones. Torn between the sense of responsibility towards the society and to their families, medical flight crews are under tremendous pressure today. However, help is not far for such individuals.
Medical Flight Companies Recognize the Need to Help
Medical flight companies around the world are formulating policies that offer help when the crew members need it the most. Offering counseling and professional mental health on particularly tough days is one such effort. Also, companies are keeping an open line so that the frontline workers can seek help when they need it. Some of them are even going to the extent of preparing questionnaires to assess the mental status of the healthcare workers who constantly take to skies in tough situations.
William and Kate’s Foundation is Leading the Way
The two royals have been regularly advocating for the medical flight industry in the United Kingdom. Their efforts have been targeted at the mental health of frontline workers too. Now, they have set up a fund of British Pounds 1.8 million that will help this cause. The idea is to include the frontline workers as well as those affected heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their organization will lend a helping hand to 10 chosen charitable entities. Access to peer-to-peer support and mental health resources is among them. The effort will surely help when the anxiety level among medical flight crews is perhaps at its highest.
Prince William has spoken out about the psychological toll that the air ambulance industry takes on individuals that power it. Having worked as an air ambulance pilot himself, it has often been witnessed that when he highlights the issues concerning the industry, the world takes notice. He did it again recently this month. He shared how he had to, sometimes, ferry children who were in critical condition and how it ‘took him over the edge’. He called the air ambulance industry professionals to be open about the mental health challenges that they encounter on a regular basis and to seek help.
Seeking Help trough Colleagues
People sailing in the same boat often understand and are empathetic towards each other. Same is the case with air ambulance industry professionals. It becomes easy to open up to fellow colleagues about issues that affect them mentally. Talking things out is known to lighten the woes of the mind and to get a better perspective of life. Family and friends too can be a great source to get those nagging thoughts out of the mind. Awareness must be created in the industry. It must be conveyed that talking it out is healthy.
Mental Issues and Employers
Mentally healthy employees are always more productive. Plus, it is the responsibility of the employer to take care of the employees. This is not limited to physical well being but also the mental well being. The air ambulance industry today is governed heavily when it comes to safety of the crew and the patients when in midair. This ensures physical well being. However, laws must be enacted to protect mental well being of the workforce too. Easy access to mental health professionals is prime among them. It must be noted, in this context, that many players in the air ambulance industry are cognizant of this need and have created an ecosystem to promote mental health.
Working in the air ambulance industry can bring to fore those hidden emotions that people tend to burry up and no person is impervious to such emotional shakeup. Take for instance Prince Williams. The Duke has been quite vocal lately about mental health issues. However, he has hardly spoken about the loss of his mother out in public, apart from one time when he was about 15 years old. He lately opened up about it in the context of his stint as an air ambulance pilot for the East Anglian Air Ambulance company. He had been a part of it for about two years.
Prince William, Air Ambulance and His Emotions
The Prince had previously been a part of the nation’s defense forces and had ever served in Afghanistan. However, what churned up his hidden emotions related to his mother, Princess Diana, was his job as an air ambulance pilot. He said, finding himself in situations where death was always a possibility was hard to take on a daily basis. He added that the job as medical flight pilot made him depressed and the memories of having lost his mother at a young age surfaced quite often. He made his revelation as part of a documentary.
William Sharing His Feelings Sheds Light on the Mental Status of Air Ambulance Personnel
Air ambulance services are availed for life-threatening emergencies most of the time. The suffering patients who are under a lot of distress and struggling to stay alive can be quite impactful on the minds of the personnel. All this, while the crew cannot let their emotions get the better of them. Suppressing emotions becomes a norm and this pent up feeling can eventually lead to anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. The industry needs to tackle this very seriously and focus towards having a mechanism that takes care of the mental wellbeing of the crew.
Medical air transport professionals are usually the first to respond to emergency calls and trauma scenes are sometimes very stressful to handle with death and serious injuries being a part of it. Medical air transport professionals do not even get time to let the situation sink in as they are expected to act immediately. This can cause quite a lot of mental trauma to them. Added to this is the physical stress of the entire situation where they have to move the patient, equipment, etc., so that lives can be saved.
Common Mental Ailments among Medical Air Transport Personnel
Research shows that depression, PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder, fatigue and anxiety are highly prevalent among medical air transport professionals. The tragedy of the matter is that they do not often get time to introspect into their mental wellbeing because of the situations that they often find themselves in where they are expected to be highly reactive to the surroundings. By the time they realize their mental state, they are already deep into these psychological ailments. While it is a shared responsibility of the employers and the personnel, here are some tips to stay mentally healthy.
Tips for Mental Health
- Increasing mindfulness through meditation: Meditation allows people to take a step back and introspect. All the deeply buried feelings come to surface and one becomes in-tuned with his or her own mental state. The ability to detach oneself from sufferings around is greatly increased.
- Confiding in others: Every person has friends or colleagues that they can talk to. Getting certain things out of our system can help. It’s a sort of an outlet. Medical air transport professionals can also make use of in-house psychologists to open up. Even keeping a journal can help.
- Exercising to reduce stress: Endorphins that result from exercise can get rid of stress to a huge extent. Air ambulance professionals must make physical activity of their choice a part of their daily routine.
Finally, it is vital that people speak out when they are under stress. There is nothing wrong in seeking help when it is warranted.