Mandurah paramedic speaks of struggle with PTSD

BEING a paramedic was Chris Mawson’s dream job.

But the dream came at a cost and the cost was his mental health.

With little available support for him and his family, the years of seeing some of life’s horrors took its toll, resulting in a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“The first symptoms were night sweats, nightmares and sleep walking,” Mr Mawson said.

“I would get panic attacks doing just everyday things.

“I was unable to fill a car up; I couldn’t drive.

“When you have PTSD you isolate yourself, including from your family.

“But you don’t realise you need that support.

“Going to see a psychiatrist was not easy.

“You really need to push yourself because every time you go, you're reliving the cases again.”

Mr Mawson’s job left him broken.

He tried to take his own life three times.

Despite support from his family, he felt isolated and alone and at times death felt like the only escape.

And he wasn’t the only one.

In the past 18 months Mr Mawson has known six paramedics or St John volunteers who have taken their own lives from mental health issues – two of whom worked in Mandurah.

“In the five years I worked in Mandurah, I saw the culture change,” Mr Mawson said.

“There was more alcohol, more drugs, more assaults – the list was endless.

“Over my last 12 months in the job, there were a huge amount of bad jobs; assaults, murders, hangings.

“It’s a lottery when it comes to being a paramedic.

“You don’t know what you’re getting.

“I would do four shifts a week – two days and two nights.

“I could guarantee one or two shifts a week I would see something that would be mentally traumatic.”

It has only been in the last few years St John Ambulance has initiated a wellbeing program for its emergency workers and volunteers.

But Mr Mawson said with only a small team trying to help hundreds of workers across the state, it wasn’t enough.

Mr Mawson’s battle with PSTD is what pushed him to write his book, Broken.

The brutally honest story makes no apologies for its content – it was simply the reality which Mr Mawson and many others faced.

But that does not mean the former paramedic does not hope for a better future for those hailed as heroes in our society.

“One life is too much,” he said.

“The idea of the book is to be an example – I’m not out to make money.

“[Paramedics] are hailed as heroes but there’s no support there for them.

“I am a success story but in no way am I a hero.

“I just want people to know there is help out there – whether it is through the charity or the wellbeing service.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Teaming up with new charity, Sirens of Silence – which supports emergency service personnel with mental illness – the book sold 400 copies within 24 hours.

The book is available at the charity’s website, sirensofsilence.org.au and in a few weeks also available electronically on websites such as Amazon.

If you need to speak to someone call the Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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