Held on 23 March in Sydney, the conference brought together some of Australia’s most senior leaders of first responder agencies – including police commissioners, fire and rescue commissioners and chief officers and SES commanders – following a number of recent suicides of first responders and reports of high psychological distress among those on the front line.
Beyond Blue also launched its Good Practice Framework for mental health and wellbeing in first responder organisations, a set of practical guidelines to help organisations promote positive mental health and reduce suicide risk in their workforces.
The only statistics available about first responders and suicide, from the National Coronial Information System, revealed there were 110 fatalities between 2000 and 2012 involving police and emergency services personnel.
Beyond Blue Chairman The Hon. Jeff Kennett AC said Beyond Blue had convened first responder agencies to come together and make a commitment to address the psychological distress workers may face going about their daily duties. Every first responder agency in Australia will be represented at the conference.
“Beyond Blue is committed to working with agencies to improve the mental health of our first responders. We have seen a number of first responders die by suicide in recent months and we must act now to reduce the risk of workers experiencing psychological distress,” he said. “We know especially in male-dominated workplaces, worries about what others will think is often a barrier to workers getting help… so it is an encouraging sign to see leaders focusing on improving the mental health, as well as the physical fitness, of their employees.”
The conference keynote speaker, Micheal Pietrus, from the Mental Health Commission of Canada said thousands of Canadian police officers from 60 police agencies are receiving better support since a workplace mental health program, based on a Department of National Defence initiative, was implemented.
“In Canada, there has been a dramatic uptake in mental health services in the two years since the program began. First responders are hard to reach as stigma is entrenched in the workforce culture, yet we have seen a huge increase in people seeking help, requests for more programs in other related agencies and recognition this is a serious problem,” he said.
“There has always been such a focus on physical health and now the focus is on mental health. It is vital mental health is not ignored and I look forward to sharing our experience with Australian leaders as they face the same challenges.”
Ambulance Victoria Acting CEO Associate Professor Tony Walker said the physical and mental health of paramedics is the most important issue facing the sector today. “We are proud to have contributed to the development of the Beyond Blue Good practice framework and believe it will help improve the mental health of our paramedics and other first responder workers,” he said.
Find out more about promoting the mental health of first responders