Our own voices

Paramedics and trainee paramedics rotate through our Department of Anaesthesia to learn to manage airways safely. A few weeks ago, I had a young man in his mid-thirties, a trainee paramedic with me, learning about airway management. Out of curiosity I asked him, “What is the most annoying part of your job?” He was straight-up, “When people inflict injuries on themselves, I think it’s such a waste of time. It takes away from others with real problems, who really need our attention.” I just smiled. I wasn’t surprised. I know full well that paramedics do a great job of looking after all kinds of people in all kinds of trouble. But attitudes can only be changed through education.

A professor of Psychiatry tweeted today “Twice in the last week I’ve been told of cruel comments by health staff to people who had self-harmed. I really believe this is unusual now but it shows there is something deep-rooted that we have to eradicate.” A classic example of ignorance within medicine of attitudes within medicine.

No training of first responders is complete till someone with lived experience of a mental illness has spoken with them, be it a police academy, social workers, fire fighters, nursing or medical students or ambulance crew. Lived experience includes suicide attempt survivors, others who have experienced a suicidal crisis and those who have lost a loved one to suicide. Sharing by these individuals can be a powerful agent for challenging prejudice and generating hope for people at risk. It enriches the participant’s understanding of how people with these serious disorders cope with their symptoms, recover and lead productive lives with hope, meaning and dignity. The program also empowers those who are faced with mental illness and provides living proof that recovery is an ongoing reality. Presenters gain confidence and self-esteem while serving as role models for the community.

Disproportionate focus on research and clinical expertise too frequently fails to see the person at the centre of a crisis as well as their loved ones who ride the wave of terror of suicidal behaviour. This needs to change and with urgency.

Lived Experience is an underutilised and underappreciated resource in the UK.

Roses in the ocean, a charity in Australia is an excellent example of harnessing this invaluable resource and making a huge difference.

Day 809

Recently I came face to face with my own subconscious biases. They came as a surprise but were interesting to watch once I became aware of them. I was faced with a series of people who were to be evaluated as objectively as possible by a colleague and I. They walked into the room and talked to us one by one. Some men, some women, some from abroad, some very well dressed, some with an accent, some with facial hair, some suave, some with a lot of hand movements, some hiding their nerves behind an overconfident exterior…

We made evaluations and discussed the interviewees. It was apparent that those who presented themselves well and appeared relaxed made a good impression. We reminded ourselves that even if someone spoke well, our focus must be on the content rather than the delivery. We picked up on body language clues like a mild trembling of the fingers and periodic clearing of the throat.

Couldn’t help thinking back. Saagar spoke well. He had an endearing and calm demeanor. He was clever. He was also a good mimic and actor. He could have easily made his assessors believe whatever he wanted them to, unless they were aware of their own biases and could read his non-verbal language – things that come with years of practice and experience!