Australia: The Nation’s largest State, New South Wales, today launched it’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy for Emergency Service Personnel.
The Strategy is a joint initiative of the Black Dog Institute and the Mental Health Commission of NSW and draws on evidence from the University of NSW.
It is the first time in Australia that first responder agencies have collaborated to develop a shared mental health and wellbeing strategy. These agencies are:
- Fire and Rescue NSW
- NSW Police Force
- NSW Ambulance
- NSW State Emergency Service
- NSW Rural Fire Service
The often stressful, and sometimes violent, nature of first responders’ work can lead to severe mental distress, including depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicide.
First responders have a much greater rate of suicide than the general public and the new cross-agency strategy launched today offers new avenues to protect and support workers and volunteers.
The Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy for First Responder Organisations in NSW was launched today by the NSW Premier, The Hon. Mike Baird.
The milestone achievement was made possible by the Mental Health Commission of NSW, which brought the agencies together and facilitated the strategy’s development, and the Black Dog Institute and University of New South Wales, which provided the evidence base to support the strategy direction. Black Dog Institute’s workplace mental health expert A/Prof Sam Harvey was the strategy’s lead author.
NSW Mental Health Commissioner John Feneley said:
“Historically, a culture of ‘she’ll be right, mate’ meant that first responders were suffering in silence, often resulting in them leaving work prematurely rather than receiving support and assistance. But that culture has been undergoing significant change in recent years,”
“New South Wales now leads the way in delivering evidence based strategies to care for and support those who put themselves in danger to protect us.”
A/Prof Sam Harvey said the strategy combines a mental health promotion, prevention and intervention emphasis.
“We know that first responders are regularly exposed to different types of trauma, from witnessing distressing events to having their own lives placed in danger, and for many this comes at a significant cost to their own wellbeing.”
“This strategy is built around the evidence on what is most likely to keep our emergency workers well, from the time they join a first responder organization through to their retirement, and how to ensure they get the best quality care and have leaders that are supportive if required.”
“Given the debt that society owes these workers, it is imperative that they receive the best possible support for their mental health and wellbeing,” says A/Prof Harvey.
To view a video of first responders’ stories of mental distress and recovery, developed to support the strategy launch, go to the Mental Health Commission of NSW’s youtube channel.