Long hours, shift work, being rostered on to work public holidays and other days where you’re separated from friends and family, and being exposed to difficult and potentially traumatic situations can all have lasting effects on emergency services workers’ wellbeing.
Research indicates police and emergency services workers are at greater risk of experiencing depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and dying by suicide.
In 2015, the Victorian Coroners Prevention Unit found the suicide rate among paramedics was around four times higher than the average for all other jobs in Victoria, and almost three times higher than other emergency service workers.
In response, Ambulance Victoria has introduced a three-year Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy for its staff, which aims to address the high risk of burnout, stress-related anxiety and depression, and suicide for its staff, and challenge the assumption that injury, including psychological injury, is just ‘part of the job’.
The strategy was recently awarded the Leading the way in Health, Safety, and Wellbeing award by public sector professional association IPAA at its Leadership in the Public Sector Awards 2016.
Developed by Ambulance Victoria with input and feedback from beyondblue, the strategy was informed by Heads Up, as well as the Good practice framework for mental health and wellbeing in first responder organisations, developed by beyondblue in 2016.
Anita Savic, Manager of Psychology Services at Ambulance Victoria, says she’s finding the strategy is already making big steps in terms of changing the organisation’s culture, including an increase in usage across all its support services.
“We have a 24-hour support line, and over the past six or so months, calls to that line have tripled,” she says.
“People are being more proactive about their mental health care and are putting their hand up to access support, which is really great.
“One of the key changes we’re seeing already is that people are using different language around mental health. They’re able to better identify how they’re feeling and support each other when they’re not travelling well. We’re already seeing shifts in stigma which is remarkable given the short timelines.”
Ms Savic says strong support from AV’s leadership team and mental health awareness training for all staff, also developed with beyondblue, has been a critical factor in the strategy’s initial success, with several senior leaders sharing their stories openly about their own mental health journeys.
“Some of the people who did that are well-respected senior employees at AV, so for them to stand up and say ‘I’ve experienced depression or anxiety or trauma and I’m OK now,’ or ‘I’m still able to have a successful career’ has been very powerful.”
“Ultimately the reason we’re doing this is that we genuinely care about improving the mental health and wellbeing of our people.”
Workplace health benefits everyone
Whether you’re an emergency services worker, a small business owner, or an office worker, your workplace can benefit from being more mentally healthy.
The business case shows a mentally healthy workplace reduces costs, improves productivity, is valued by employees, and makes legal sense.
In fact, every dollar you spend creating a mentally healthy workplace will on average see a positive return on investment (ROI) of 2.3, meaning you’ll see a return of $2.30 for every dollar you invest.
We’ve created a great guide to help you get started on improving the mental health of your business.
Find out how to start taking action today