Q&A: New book by ambulanceman reveals mental health challenges in emergency services

Published: 23 Jan 2020

Author: Dan Farnworth
Q&A: New book by ambulanceman reveals mental health challenges in emergency services

On 24 January award-winning first-responder Dan Farnworth (2018 Fellow) will publish a memoir exploring the mental health problems of frontline staff in the emergency services. Already nominated as Book of the Week by W H Smiths, ‘999: My Life on the Frontline of the Ambulance Service’, shares Dan’s own experiences of trauma and recovery.

Dan has been working as an emergency medical technician for the North West Ambulance Service for more than 15 years and has recently qualified as a paramedic. In 2018 he won the ITV NHS Heroes Award, in recognition of his founding of ‘Our Blue Light’, a health and wellbeing network for emergency and essential workers.

We asked him about his story and the wider issues it raises.

What is your new book about?

DF: This book brings to life the astonishing experiences I faced while working as a medic on the frontline of the UK ambulance service. When the 999 call comes in, I never know what to expect, or how I will cope with the challenges I will face when I arrive at the scene. In the book, I reflect on the amazing highs and the gut-wrenching lows of working in the emergency services, by sharing my own stories. I also talk about the emotional toll that working in the emergency services can have on your wellbeing, which I hope will encourage more people to talk about their own struggles.

Why did you decide to write it?

DF: I think it’s important to open up the conversations we have around mental health, especially in the workplace. I have personal experience of suffering from PTSD, which was related to an incident I attended. Initially I was scared to admit I had a problem, due to the stigma surrounding mental health. However, since my recovery I have strived to ensure that my experience has been shared, so that others feel it is okay to talk and to encourage mental health conversations.

How does the book relate to your Fellowship?

DF: My book was inspired by my Churchill Fellowship. During my research it became apparent that, in order to overcome the boundaries surrounding health and wellbeing in the emergency services, we need to have an honest portrayal of what life is really like for staff who do this day in, day out. That is where my initial idea for a book came from, and when I returned from my travels I was determined to make it happen.

Can you tell us more about your Fellowship?

DF: As part of my Fellowship, I travelled to Canada and the USA to investigate health and wellbeing support for emergency services personnel. In the UK, 1 in 4 emergency services personnel will consider suicide during their career, but investment in solving these issues remains incredibly low. In the USA, a great deal of investment has been put into improving health and wellbeing of staff carrying out this difficult role, and I was interested to find out more about the practices they have put in place, and identify ways these can be integrated into the UK.  

What’s next for you?

DF: I want to continue raising awareness about the importance of mental wellbeing in the workplace. I’m currently using the findings from my Fellowship to support not only the emergency services, but whole communities across the country. My work includes the introduction of the first UK Stigma Free Zone which will be ready to launch by March 2020. Additionally, I am currently working on a new model called ‘Heroes of the United Kingdom’ to not only support colleagues, but senior managers in coming together to share ideas on one platform. This platform will also be the at the forefront of research into the current position and future requirements of mental health, not only in the emergency services but across all public services.

My aim is to ensure that all employees have a happy and healthy place to work. I hope this will help to set the gold standard, not only in the emergency services but for all UK employers.

‘999: My Life on the Frontline of the Ambulance Service’, by Dan Farnworth (Simon & Schuster), £14.99, is available on Amazon and in bookstores.

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