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'Recovery Activities' Ease Mental Health Challenges in EMS Workers

April 12, 2021

Emergency medical services (EMS) workers, who experience triple the risk of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression than the general population does, can decrease daily symptoms of depression through recovery activities such as exercising and socializing with others, researchers reported in the Journal of Affective Disorders. 

Their study included 70 EMS workers at American Medical Response in Syracuse, New York. Over 8 consecutive days in 2019, researchers surveyed EMS participants about mental health symptoms and daily occupational stressors, such as routine work demands, critical incidents involving serious harm or death, and social conflicts.

According to the findings, daily occupational stressors were linked with daily PTSD symptom severity. Social conflicts in particular were associated with greater depression symptom severity.

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“Together, these occupational stressors negatively impacted mental health each day that they occurred,” said researcher Bryce Hruska, PhD, of Syracuse University, New York. “Each additional work demand or critical event that an EMS worker encountered on a given workday was associated with a 5% increase in their PTSD symptom severity levels that day, while each social conflict was associated with a 12% increase in their depression symptom severity levels.” 

On the other hand, recovery activities, such as exercising or socializing, and finding meaning in the day’s stressors, were linked with lower daily levels of depression symptom severity, the study found. On workdays, EMS workers took part in about 3 recovery activities during nonwork hours. Visiting friends and family, eating a meal with others, and spending quiet time alone were most common.

“These activities had a beneficial impact on mental health; each additional recovery activity in which a worker engaged was associated with a 5% decrease in their depression symptom severity levels that day,” Dr. Hruska said. “The social nature of the reported recovery activities is notable, given that healthy relationships can alleviate the negative impact of stress on mental health by assisting with coping efforts and helping to reframe the day’s stressors.

“Perhaps demonstrating this latter effect, we also found that EMS workers who looked for lessons to learn from the day’s challenges experienced a 3% decrease in their daily depression symptoms.”

—Jolynn Tumolo

References

Hruska B, Barduhn MS. Dynamic psychosocial risk and protective factors associated with mental health in emergency medical service (EMS) personnel. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2021;282:9-17.

Newly research explores EMS workers’ mental health [press release]. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University; April 9, 2021.

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