A University of New England seminar has uncovered the toll post-traumatic stress is having on emergency services

Professor Paul Barratt.
Professor Paul Barratt.

DISTRESSING events are an inevitable part of emergency service work.

Now, researchers have called for change in workplace mental health stigma to keep first-responders on the job.

Policy think tank Australia21 chair Paul Barratt said emergency service workers need an environment that encourages them to speak up about stress.

“It shouldn’t be a career limiting move to put your hand up and ask for help,” Mr Barratt said.

“We need to change the culture to acknowledge that it’s normal for what we see and do to affect us.

“The people who are the cultural drivers in any organisation are middle management.

“If you have good guys at that level it helps take all the stigma from mental illness.”

Early intervention, ongoing education, counselling and effective management of staff who are on stress leave are essential to deal with post-traumatic stress, Mr Barratt said.

No stranger to confronting incidents himself, Region North Three duty commander Wayne Zikan said PTS is something firefighters have to be aware of.

“It’s a big thing for us, we’ve had some firefighters – every organisation has the same issue, unfortunately take their own life on occasion,” Mr Zikan said.

“That could be for a whole range of reasons inside and outside of the job, but we’re always aware of the fact that people in emergency services can be put under unusual amounts of stress.

“It’s that cultural thing about not talking about issues, toughening up and keeping it all inside.

“We definitely try to encourage people that that’s not the way you deal with issues.”

Any serious incident that involves injury or a fatality is followed by a debrief.

“We make sure our supervisors are watching their people, looking out for each other, looking for any changes in behaviour or signs someone might be doing it a bit tough,” Mr Zikan said.

Post-traumatic stress is costing emergency service organisations, according to Australia21 chair Paul Barratt.

As one of the first to respond to a medical emergency, paramedics are exposed to trauma and tragedy on a daily basis.

But, their mental health is a priority, said a NSW Ambulance spokesman.

“The state government committed $10 million in the 2017-18 budget to provide further support for the mental and physical health and wellbeing of NSW Ambulance staff,” he said.

Trauma psychologist services, psychological counselling and non-denominational chaplaincy support are provided to staff. The cost of having individuals succumb to a PTS injury to an organisation is enormous, according to Australia21 chair Paul Barratt.

“[This is] both in the management of those affected, and the fact that they have been taken out of the workforce.”

Armidale Local Area Command Detective Inspector Ann Joy said the health and wellbeing of all employees is paramount.

“The psychological wellbeing of officers is a priority,” she said.

“The challenges facing police officers are recognised and the range of mental health issues including post-traumatic stress are being addressed through a multi-faceted approach.”


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