Ambulance medical technician and father of four Dan Farnworth attended a 999 call in 2014. It was the murder of a child. He had wide experience of attending difficult incidents with the North West Ambulance Service, and thought he was immune to mental health issues. But he could not stop thinking about this case, and was haunted by the image of the child.
It changed his whole life, including his relationship with his family. He began to have recurring nightmares, suffered from vivid flashbacks, would wake up in a cold sweat and struggled to do simple things with the children like taking them to the park.
“I was in a deep, dark place. I felt like I had this sense of impending doom - like I was in a plane that was about to crash,” says Dan. “I was at that point where I realised I was at a crossroads. Do I keep trying to deal with this myself or do I talk to someone about it?”
Eventually, Dan, 32, texted fellow paramedic, Rich, 29, asking for help and was signed off work for five months with PTSD. Rich says: “I remembered just thinking to myself that the best thing to do is try and get him to open up and then just listen and be there.”
To help other emergency workers facing similar challenges, Dan and Rich set up the network Our Blue Light in 2016. Through fun events such as walks, relay races and dance contests, the initiative works to open up discussions about mental health in the NHS and emergency services to make sure people know what to do when they, or a colleague, are struggling.
“We all know how to deal with cuts and CPR, but what about mental health first aid? Once you put the uniform on, people forget that you’re a human being,” says Dan.
Rich adds: “We’re not robots. Sometimes we are seen in that way, that we’re there to fix every problem, but sometimes you do get an overload.”
Dan continues: “I’ve had people I never would have expected come to talk to me about their own mental health - to look at, they are toughest, hardened Ambulance people and they say they have been struggling.”
Rich says: “It is such a highly pressured demanding job - you really do feel like you are on the frontline.”