Taking Stress Home: Secondary Traumatic Stress in Paramedic Intimate Partners

Art by Dan Sun showing a paramedic dealing with traumatic stress in an ambulance after a call.
Taking Stress Home: Secondary Traumatic Stress in Paramedic Intimate Partners
Image: “Spent” by Dan Sun Photo Art. Buy this image for print from Dan Sun Photo Art.

New study explores how the traumatic stress of paramedics impact their significant others and the degree of evidence in literature.

The demanding job of a paramedic can undoubtedly take a toll not only on the individual but also on their significant others, according to a review by a team of researchers titled “Secondary traumatic stress in partners of paramedics: A scoping review” in Australasian Emergency Care by Hill, Paterson, and Rebar. The study highlighted the experiences and effects of post-traumatic stress (PTS) transfer between first responders and their significant others and defined the range of literature currently existing on the subject.

The study highlighted three critical findings that will be significant for paramedics and their partners to understand. First, partners of paramedics tend to be acutely aware of and affected by the PTS symptoms their significant others are experiencing. Second, the PTS experienced by paramedics can drastically influence couple functioning, including communication, support, and roles. Finally, despite the evident need, the study found that partners often feel insufficient support is available to them in coping with these issues.

These findings indicate the need for enhanced understanding and support systems for paramedics and their partners. Open lines of communication may be one of the crucial steps toward mitigating the negative impacts of PTS. It could be beneficial for paramedics to share their experiences, allowing their partners to provide emotional support and contributing to increased attachment and relationship satisfaction. However, the right balance is needed to ensure the mental well-being of both parties involved. Hill, Paterson, and Rebar (2023) recognized this in their statement:

“Research indicates that paramedics favour social support, such as talking to a partner, as a primary coping strategy. Similarly, previous research found that military veterans and emergency service personnel who talked with a spouse, friend, or family member experienced fewer symptoms of PTSD. However, exposure to details of traumatic experiences may leave partners vulnerable to secondary traumatic stress (STS).” (p. 2).

Moreover, the study highlights the importance of finding effective strategies to reduce secondary traumatic stress (STS) in paramedic partners. Despite the heavy emotional burden, partners often must adopt a supportive role while managing additional responsibilities. The added stress can lead to feelings of isolation and overall decreased well-being.

For paramedics and their partners, seeking professional help or support groups tailored to their unique circumstances might be beneficial. Support can allow partners to understand their experiences better and provide practical coping strategies. It is also crucial for partners to realize that it is not solely their responsibility to provide emotional support, and seeking external help is not a sign of weakness but a means to ensure their well-being.

However, the researchers acknowledged several limitations in their review. The lack of quantitative studies targeting this population and the potential for publication bias might have resulted in overestimating the severity of STS in paramedic partners. Furthermore, the authors noted that this research area is relatively new, highlighting the need for additional, comprehensive studies.

The authors included EMTs and first responder keywords in their research and weighed the existing research on PTS and STS across public safety roles. Their exclusion criteria focused on paramedic partners in literature. Though a narrowed scope, the question of how STS impacts intimate partners of public safety personnel is an essential area of research that also needs further exploration.

In conclusion, the role of paramedics is undeniably challenging and traumatic, not just for the paramedic but also for their intimate partners. As this review has pointed out, more research and intervention programs are needed to support these individuals. The health and well-being of paramedic partners are essential for their own lives and could significantly impact the mental health of paramedics.

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