For the nurses, physicians, paramedics and pilots at STARS, Canada, exposure to traumatic events when treating and transporting patients is seemingly part and parcel of the job. However, according to the results of an online survey, the levels of depression and anxiety they experience are not too dissimilar to those of the general public.
The survey, believed to be the first time STARS teams have been checked for symptoms, was conducted by the University of Regina (U of R), the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region (RQHR) and STARS between November and February. One hundred STARS members from Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba were asked about events they had witnessed and symptoms they had subsequently experienced.
Five per cent of those surveyed reported symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while three per cent relayed severe levels of anxiety and stress, and two per cent showed severe levels of anxiety. Reporting on these unforeseen rates, one of the study’s investigators Michelle McCarron described them as being ‘lower than other research with first responders’.
Researchers have pointed out that the results are not necessarily entirely reliable, noting that only a small sample of personnel was used. Flight nurse Tammy Hagerty is herself nonplussed by the findings, divulging that she and her team see ‘the worst of the worst’ and admitting that scene calls are the toughest: “It takes a toll.”
There are numerous theories about why STARS personnel reported lower PTSD symptoms than other first responders (among which prevalence of PTSD varies significantly, from seven per cent to 32 per cent).
Among theories suggested by researchers are that police officers may more openly report their symptoms or that, in fact, STARS personnel have higher levels of resiliency than anticipated by researchers. However, Darcy McKay, clinical operations manager for the STARS Foundation in Regina and a flight paramedic said: “I think it speaks to the people who work here at STARS.”
Researchers have concluded that further research is needed to obtain a clearer result. “We really don’t have enough data to be definitive,” cautioned Nick Carleton, an associate professor at the U of R and co-investigator.