Mental health is a priority at Ambulance Victoria (AV). Victorian paramedics are reported to have an incidence of suicide four times higher than the Victorian average and three time higher than other emergency services.
The personal commitment from Tony Walker, Ambulance Victoria’s CEO, to reduce mental health injuries has been a key factor in improving the workforce’s mental health. Mr Walker’s openness around his own mental health issues and the importance of getting a “check up from the neck up” has helped reduce stigma and raise awareness.
In 2016, AV partnered with Phoenix Australia to undertake an external review of their psychology and support services. A key recommendation from this review was to improve understanding of mental health within the organisation.
Following the review, AV partnered with Beyond Blue to develop and deliver Mental Health Matters @AV – online and face-to-face training for staff.
The training covers a range of topics, including understanding mental health, understanding trauma and substance abuse, suicide support and recovery.
Consistent messaging and communication is difficult across AV’s diverse workforce. A number of mechanisms were developed to manage this issue, including videos of staff and CEO, Tony Walker, pledging their commitment to creating a mentally healthy workplace.
The videos were shared across the organisation as part of the targeted mental health awareness training.
The Mental Health Matters @AV program demonstrated clear changes in staff’s knowledge and attitudes around mental health – emerging behavioural change (self-care, healthy eating, physical activity, sleep and general wellbeing), positive workplace culture and a mentally healthier workplace were reported as positive outcomes of the program’s implementation.
Some of the operational staff results included:
- knowledge of possible causes or risk factors for mental health condition increased, with familiarity rising from 61 to 92 per cent
- awareness of treatments and supports available increased from 56 to 89 per cent
- 70 per cent of staff said they are more likely to seek support if experiencing a mental health condition compared to 46 per cent previously.
- training was not mandatory and AV anticipated that participation may be a challenge
- corporate staff participation was comparatively less than operational staff. This was the result of a lack in workload support as per operational staff – no shift coverage or flexibility around online/offline presentation delivery. AV are considering modifying presentations to complement corporate staff’s working arrangements and needs.
Ongoing support from managers and senior leaders has proven critical to the success of Ambulance Victoria’s mentally healthy workplace. By listening to staff’s requests and understanding staff needs, Ambulance Victoria are able to provide support and make resources accessible for all staff.