01/03/2016 5:55 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Time To Take Care Of Those Who Take Care Of Us

This group of public servants face very similar work and tasks to military personnel. Although they are receiving some interest and support, it will take a lot more work to bridge the gap between what is being done and what needs to be done.

The Sydney Morning Herald via Getty Images
(AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND OUT) An injured man is taken to hospital by ambulance officers at Hickson Road in The Rocks after the HarbourCat Pam Burridge hit a 10-metre cruiser on the water near the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Three people were killed, eight injured, and one teenage girl is believed to be missing as a result of the collision, 28 March 2007. SMH Picture by KATE GERAGHTY (Photo by Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

While Australia and Canada have been at war or in international conflict(s) for nearly a decade and a half, the respective defence forces have targeted and focussed energy and resources on managing Occupational Stress Injuries -- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (OSI-PTSD) with the men and women serving in these conflicts.

The government should be applauded for their reaction to this serious health issue, but there is another large group of men and women who are on the frontline and are facing very similar challenges, and it is just starting to come to the forefront.

This group of public servants in both countries face very similar work and tasks, and are also at high risk as a result of exposure to incidents that bring about similar mental health challenges. Although they are receiving some interest and support, it will take a lot more work to bridge the gap between what is being done and what needs to be done.

Australia's Emergency Service Workers (ESW): police, fire and medical response units across Australia face a high potential for mental illness brought on by OSI-PTSD. Suicide rates among the sub groups of ESWs are the highest public servant rates after veterans, with some states showing 35 per 100,000 for paramedics and more than 10 per 100,000 for police.

Although suicide rates are indicative of mental health problems, the sheer numbers identified through the Black Dog Institute report, dedicated to diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders, indicates that upwards of 8000 emergency services workers in Australia are living with OSI-PTSD, an astonishing number.

A statement from the New South Wales Police Minister in 2014 speaks to the programs that have been put in place to respond to the needs of police officer experiencing health issues including OSI-PTSD, in light of complaints about accessibility.

The Victoria Health Minister in 2015 spoke of the consequences of OSI-PTSD in that state among paramedic service personnel and offered information to indicate that the state is taking it seriously and have put in place substantial supports to assist those faced with this mental health dilemma.

The discussion surrounding a response to PTSD among Australia's emergency service workers is of paramount importance to the workers themselves, the managers of those workers and the politicians representing the departments impacted federally and within the various states. NSW mental health minister, Pru Goward spoke last summer of the need for diagnosis and treatment of OSI-PTSD while launching a new set of comprehensive guidelines to help in that work.

In Canada, the adoption of proactive programs to combat mental health challenges, like the Road to Mental Health Readiness (R2MR), is seen as a positive response to the recent information regarding mental health and emergency services personnel. The recent research of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust (TEMA), a Canadian organisation dedicated to mental health research and intervention, identifies that in 2015 the three emergency service groups' cumulative suicides were almost triple of the military, a disturbing trend that shows similar results for the first two months of 2016.

Providing mental health services and resources to those with OSI-PTSD is an important component to developing a strategy for ESWs that recognises the risks and trauma that is faced all too often. As noted, governments and organisations are recognising that OSI-PTSD has the potential to be a debilitating disease for the worker and can cripple an organisation without strong health and mental health intervention.

Understanding that mental health must as well have at its core a preventative component will be necessary in the identification of at-risk employees, assessing as early as possible and building resilience to ward off the full impact of PTSD.

The resources that are needed must focus on the education of employees, supervisors and managers on situational awareness and response to be successful. Literature has identified that success can be found with the right resources engaged at the right time.

The potential for success will depend on those responsible for the welfare of these workers becoming engaged in prevention and, where necessary, developing long-term health care solutions. I was asked by a police officer last year in a lecture I gave on this issue why it was so important. The answer is clear, it is time, time to take care of those who take care of us.


If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 131114. For further information about depression, contact beyond blue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.