New Mental Health Framework for First Responders
24 March 2016 at 9:56 am
Mental health Not for Profit beyondblue has released a comprehensive framework to help first responder agencies address mental health and suicide risks.
The Good practice framework for mental health and wellbeing in first responder organisations featured at a national conference convened by beyondblue in Sydney on Wednesday, attended by more than 200 delegates.
“We are all here because we are passionate about the issues,” beyondblue CEO Georgie Harman said from the conference.
“One death of a first responder is one death too many. One death has a ripple effect on colleagues, family, friends. It is not just one life that is potentially ruined or affected.
“The fact that we have every corner of the first responder world here today from commissioners to ministers, to union reps to serving officers, I think is a very healthy indication that we can’t do this in isolation. We have to work together.”
Harman said that intuitively, anecdotally and in terms of hard data, there is not one particular first responder discipline that is affected more than any other.
However, she said older data from the National Coroners Information System, which records all suicide deaths in Australia, revealed 110 recorded deaths of first responder suicides between 2000 and 2012.
“Of those, 62 were police service members, 22 fire service employees and 26 ambulance service members. While that data is relatively old it shows a disproportionate representation of police officers. Some of that may have something to do with the fact that police officers are continually exposed to trauma every single day as part of their job. They also have access to means – they quite often carry firearms.”
Harman said stigma was the biggest hurdle in seeking to combat mental health issues.
“There is a whole range of ways in which stigma manifests itself and we know it is not unique to first responders. Male dominated industries in particular have a way to go but things are changing.
“We know that when we [beyondblue] started 15 years ago that people didn’t even talk about depression. It wasn’t considered a real disease. People now talk very openly about it. We know we have long way to go on anxiety issues and even further to go on an open dialogue around suicide.
“We can all play a role in suicide prevention.”
Harman said the best practice framework, developed from extensive consultation and research within the sector, was a starting point.
“I would like to see every single leader in every single first responder agency, and it starts right at the top, at commissioner level, say they are going to have a good hard critical look at what they are doing.
“There is some great work going on but is it the best it can be. Be prepared to open the lid and ask the hard questions.”
Harman urged leaders to consult widely within their organisations and take a good “hard critical non defensive look” at what they are doing.