Promoting the mental health of police and emergency services personnel

Most people working in ambulance, fire and rescue, police and state emergency services (SES) manage the demands of the job well. A culture of camaraderie and loyalty can protect the mental health of personnel and contribute to their wellbeing. 

However, research indicates police and emergency services personnel may be at greater risk of experiencing anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and dying by suicide.

The nature of emergency services means police and emergency services personnel routinely face life and death challenges and can witness very distressing situations. Like other workers, they can experience common workplace risks to mental health, such as heavy workloads, high demands, and bullying. Stigma regarding mental health conditions is still prevalent in many traditionally male-dominated occupations, such as emergency services.

 

Promoting mental health in a police and emergency services organisation

Investing in mental health makes good business and operational sense. Organisations with a positive approach to mental health and safety have increased productivity, improved worker engagement and are better able to recruit and retain talented people1. They also have reduced absenteeism, risk of conflict, grievances, turnover, disability injury rates and performance or morale problems2.

 


 

Taking action

There are practical steps all police and emergency services organisations can take to promote mental health and reduce suicide risk within their workforce. The Good practice framework for mental health and wellbeing in first responder organisations provides practical guidance on how to take action.

The Framework identifies five core areas of action:

 

 1.

A systematic approach to risk management

Each police and emergency services organisation is different and has specific risks and priorities when it comes to mental health. A systematic approach to risk management examines the impact of the community, the organisation, systems within the organisation, and individual factors to build the organisation's specific risk profile.

 2.

Implementation of a mental health strategy

Developing and implementing a strategic plan to create a mentally healthy workplace is a fundamental, proactive step. Integrating the plan into daily work activities, reviewing and learning from it, will bring the plan to life.

 3.

Developing leadership capability

Leadership and management practices strongly influence how workers cope with and manage operational demands. Good leaders know their people and can detect signs that a team or individual may be struggling. It is critical to develop their confidence and skills to have difficult conversations early and know how to manage situations effectively.

 4.

Take action to reduce stigma

Tackling stigma is a fundamental step in promoting mental health and wellbeing in a police and emergency services organisation. Many stigma-reduction initiatives cost nothing and simply require courage. One of the most effective ways to reduce stigma is to invite people with a personal experience of recovery from a mental health condition, self-harm or suicide to share their stories in the workplace.

 5.

Educate and prepare your workforce

There are many known risks and likely events that can occur in police and emergency services role. Preparing workers for the impact of these situations and providing information and guidance about how to respond effectively is an essential part of developing confident, capable and resilient police and emergency services personnel.

 

There is a wide range of initiatives to promote mental health that should also be considered across the career of a police or emergency services employee or volunteer. Each organisation should think about their specific needs and consider which strategies will be most useful. Suicide prevention needs to be one of the ultimate objectives of any mental health and wellbeing strategy.

 


 

Next steps

For organisational leaders

For police and emergency services personnel at all levels

Find out more about taking care of your own mental health and supporting your colleagues.

 

 


 

Get support

  • Learn more about anxiety, depression and suicide prevention, or talk through your concerns with the beyondblue Support Service‚Äč.
  • Access free, anonymous peer support around the clock from beyondblue's online forums. The forums are a group support space where people with experience of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts share tips and advice on what works during the tough times. There is also a Trauma section for discussing PTSD and police and emergency services experiences.
  • Lifeline is a free, confidential, 24-hour telephone and online crisis support service.
  • The Suicide Call Back Service is a free, nationwide 24-hour professional telephone and online counselling service for anyone affected by suicide.

Tools and resources

  • Phoenix Australia (Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health) is a not-for-profit organisation that promotes recovery for the 15 million Australians affected by trauma. Phoenix provides a number of fact sheets and videos about trauma and works with high-risk organisations to implement initiatives that promote mental health.
  • Equipt is a free wellbeing app developed by The Police Association and Victoria Police, with input from police members and leading health professionals. It is designed for current and former sworn officers, police employees and their families, and may also be useful to other emergency services personnel.
  • The Black Dog Institute and Fire and Rescue NSW developed in this video clip telling the story of a fire-fighter who fought depression.
  • Guidelines for treatment of PTSD in emergency services workers (PDF, 68pg, 5.3MB): Expert guidelines released by the Black Dog Institute in collaboration with leading clinicians for the diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in emergency service workers.
  • In the UK, the Blue Light Programme provides mental health support for emergency services staff and volunteers from police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue services across England. The website contains a range of useful resources.

Learn more about beyondblue's Police and Emergency Services program

 

1. Instinct and Reason (2014). Employer of Choice Study. Retrieved February 2016: https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/instinct_and_reason_employer_of_choice.pdf?sfvrsn=4 

2. Standards Council of Canada (2013). Psychological health and safety in the workplace — Prevention, promotion, and guidance to staged implementation. CAN/CSA-Z1003-13/BNQ 9700-803/2013.