Stress takes its toll in the emergency services

| December 27, 2018

A national study has found one in three police and emergency services employees experience high or very high psychological distress compared to one in eight Australian adults.

Other key findings from the report, entitled Answering the Call, show nearly half the employees and one in three volunteers in emergency services are diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in their life, and half of front line emergency staff experience a traumatic event in their work that deeply affects them.

More than 21,000 police, fire, ambulance and SES employees, volunteers and retired and former personnel took part in the study, which was commissioned by Beyond Blue and led by researchers from The University of Western Australia in partnership with Roy Morgan Research.

Respondents answered questions about their wellbeing and resilience, anxiety conditions, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts.

Lead researcher of the study UWA Professor David Lawrence said the results confirmed that mental health issues were more common in police and emergency services agencies than in the general population and among other occupations.

“Despite this, individuals and teams do not always seek the support they need with many concerned about the potential impact on their careers and work and the stigma involved in addressing mental health issues,” he said.

“The study is very important as it provides evidence to help identify ways for agencies and the community to improve mental health and wellbeing in the sector, and to support the people who protect us when they also need help themselves.”

The mental health and wellbeing survey is by far the largest ever to be undertaken among police and emergency services organisations with the largest amount of participants.

Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman said the results would arm everyone with unprecedented national data and insights from those who serve to protect us and keep us safe.

“It is now everyone’s responsibility – governments, agencies, police and emergency services personnel and their families, unions and peak bodies, services and other stakeholders – to come together to convert this evidence into further action and lasting change,” he said.

“Beyond Blue will support the sector to do this; to analyse and use the research findings to continue to focus on the mental health and wellbeing of police and emergency service personnel.”

Answering the call was made possible by funding from Beyond Blue and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre.