The confronting work of NSW’s emergency services can lead to severe mental distress, but a new cross-agency strategy launched today takes powerful steps to protect and support front-line workers and volunteers.
Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy for First Responder Organisations in NSW was launched today by the Premier, The Hon. Mike Baird. It comprises six objectives to guide agencies in their efforts to protect and promote the mental wellbeing of their members.
It is the first time in Australia’s history that first responder agencies have collaborated to develop a shared mental health and wellbeing strategy. 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. UNSW researcher and workplace mental health expert Associate Professor Sam Harvey, who is based at the Black Dog Institute, was the strategy’s lead author.
NSW Mental Health Commissioner John Feneley said the collaboration of the five agencies – Fire & Rescue NSW, NSW Police Force, NSW Ambulance, NSW State Emergency Service and NSW Rural Fire Service – demonstrated their commitment to improving mental health and wellbeing among their ranks.
“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,” Mr Feneley said.
“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.”
Associate Professor 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 organisation 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 they receive the best possible care and support to enable them to continue in their chosen workforce,” said Associate Professor Harvey.
A video of first responders’ stories of mental distress and recovery, developed to support the strategy launch, is available below and on the Commission's YouTube channel.