HGH EMS Captain Leads Fight Against Staggering Suicide Rates

Monique Rose says one day it will be OK to talk openly about mental health and suicide at EMS agencies across the world.

“Now, if you tried to talk to somebody—to save your own life—you likely wouldn’t be allowed to try to save anybody else’s life anymore,” she said. “They would think you were unstable.”

Which is totally ironic, adds Rose, since Emergency Responders have a critically high rate of suicide attempts and successes.

“But they hide it,” she said, “because nobody is supposed to talk about it.”

Rose, a captain with Humboldt General Hospital EMS Rescue, is a founding partner of “Reviving Responders,” a group dedicated to changing that culture in EMS.

The group’s name came from HGH EMS Rescue’s 2014-2015 high school EMT class, who brainstormed with Rose regarding a possible PSA/awareness campaign on EMS and suicide.

Little did Rose know that just a short time later, she and six other EMS professionals would found Reviving Responders after they were tasked with undertaking a research project as part of an Ambulance Service Manager course.

Rose recounts that at first, the group was leaning toward a topic centered on EMS recruitment.

“The more I thought about it,” says Rose, “the more I knew I couldn’t support that topic. I was going to be asleep the whole time; I just couldn’t get focused on that.”

Rose said as she tossed and turned ideas in her head, the idea of suicide among EMS professionals struck her like a lightning bolt. She had personal experience with the subject, and all of a sudden she found the focus she was looking for.

Convincing her seven partners and their advisor to go her route, though, was another story.

“They shied away from it at first,” she said. “There were lots of thoughts, like the subject was too broad and that there wasn’t enough research out there to support our project.”

With some gentle cajoling from Rose, the group developed a survey focusing on critical stress and suicide in EMS. The return was an astounding 4,022 respondents from all 50 states, Guam, the District of Columbia, American Samoa and Puerto Rico.

Even Rose was overwhelmed by the results.

“It was such an unbelievable survey response,” she said. “We knew that we were delving into a subject that hit home with our fellow EMS family.”

Even more astounding was that 1,383, or 37 percent, of respondents had contemplated suicide, and 6.6 percent had actually attempted to take their own lives.

Worse, the group discovered that suicide rates for EMS personnel are on a steep rise, even though there are programs within the EMS profession that can help.

“So if there’s help,” said Rose, “we wanted to know why EMS professionals are predisposed to choosing suicide as a coping mechanism.”

And with that answer came the group’s passion.

“All of a sudden, we knew what we had to do,” said Rose. “We didn’t just want to identify data, we wanted to fix holes in our support systems; we wanted to change our culture.”

It hasn’t been easy. But little by little, Rose said individuals, agencies and now organizations are being won over by the survey data and the very stark realities it represents.

“We are broken,” she said, “and if we are broken, then how can we fix other people? We have to be whole and healthy and able to access the resources we need—without shame.”

The group’s data, conclusions and recommendations were memorialized in a white paper last year. This year, the paper’s main points were included on a large-scale poster that made its debut at the 2015 Pinnacle Conference in July.

Next, the group will do a lecture presentation for the American Ambulance Association, publish a paper in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, and make a presentation at the JEMS conference.

They are also working on achieving 501(c)3 nonprofit status through the IRS, and recently launched a website, www.revivingresponders.com, targeted at partnering organizations and individuals, as well as providing resources for anyone contemplating suicide.

“We’re ready to take that next step,” said Rose. “We want to continue to identify the scope of the problem and work to develop and implement a variety of solutions.”
“We know we can help,” she added. “People in our industry are hurting; we need to repair this culture so that getting help is not considered a weakness.”