Australia-first research centre into paramedic health launches in Melbourne

An Australian first study looking at sleep patterns, and consequent health and wellbeing of paramedics is underway in Melbourne. Last month, Monash University launched Australia’s first unit looking at the mental and physical health and wellbeing of paramedics – which will extend this and other research into a profession that has a suicide rate four times higher than the Victorian average.

Paramedics undertake one of the most important roles in our society – providing assistance to those in need. This cardinal responsibility is often associated with poor sleep, stress and an increased risk of health problems. Left unchecked, these problems may escalate into higher levels of depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stress, fatigue, and even suicide – the rate of which among paramedics is currently three times higher than other emergency workers.

The Paramedic Health and Wellbeing Research Unit, at the university’s Peninsula campus in Frankston, will bring together multiple disciplines to research ways to improve the lives and resilience of Victoria’s more than 3400 paramedics and 578 MICA paramedics, according to the Unit’s Director, Dr Kelly Bowles.

“We will be working with psychologists, nutritionists, exercise physiologists as well as Ambulance Victoria to look at the current health and mental wellbeing of our paramedics and researching ways to make them healthier, mentally and physically,” she said.

One of the most important areas of wellbeing in paramedics is sleep, according to Dr Alex Wolkow from MICCN, who has been working with the Monash Department of Community Emergency Health and Paramedic Practice to study sleep patterns in paramedics.

Dr Wolkow is conducting a long term study looking at the role sleep has in the wellbeing of paramedics – by testing the sleep patterns of new recruit paramedics before they start work in the field and then conducting follow ups of their sleep patterns throughout their careers.

This is a collaborative project in which Alex is working closely with Ben Meadley from the Monash Department of Community Emergency Health and Paramedic Practicewho is also investigating diet, physical activity and cardiometabolic health in this same cohort.

Since data collection began for the project in August 2018, baseline sleep and mental health data have been successfully collected in a total of 27 paramedic participants, with further data collection planned for 2019.

According to Dr Wolkow, the research “aims to generate knowledge for direct translation to improve the health of paramedics and other emergency services more broadly, whilst also hoping to guide innovation in the treatment and prevention of mental health symptoms”. The study is being conducted in collaboration with Ambulance Victoria and the Monash Department of Community Emergency Health and Paramedic Practice.

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