Dedicated Centre of Excellence will improve mental health of emergency workers

Phoenix Australia will lead a new Centre of Excellence aimed at improving mental health outcomes for emergency service workers by building the capability of health practitioners to support them.


Phoenix Australia is deeply honoured and very excited to lead the Centre of Excellence in Emergency Worker Mental Health on behalf of the Victorian Government. We believe this centre will ensure that Victorian emergency workers who serve the community have access to best practice care for their mental health, and that the care provided is at the cutting edge of new innovations in the field.”
~ Professor David Forbes, Director of Phoenix Australia.


Due to the nature of their work, paramedics, police, firefighters and search and rescue workers are more likely than others in the community to suffer serious and debilitating mental health injuries as a result of being exposed to trauma in the course of their work. The new Centre of Excellence in Emergency Worker Mental Health will build the capability of Victorian health professionals to provide evidence-based mental health treatments to emergency service workers.


Announced earlier this month by the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, the centre aims to enhance mental health support available to emergency service workers and volunteers, including those who have retired.


High rates of mental health issues


Emergency service workers are exposed to significant traumatic events in the course of their work, at times multiple events in a day. They can be directly exposed to severe trauma and risks to their own lives, as well as dealing with people suffering severe trauma.


The first national survey of the mental health and wellbeing of personnel in the police and emergency services was released in November 2018. The Answering the call study, conducted by Beyond Blue, involved more than 21,000 past and present employees and volunteers. It confirmed what had been known for a long time – that emergency service workers are at greater risk of experiencing a mental health condition.


The study found that 10 per cent of employees had probable posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which compares to four per cent in the general Australian population and eight per cent in the Australian Defence Force. The new centre will ensure that Victoria’s emergency service workers receive the very best mental health support.


How the Centre of Excellence will support emergency service workers


The new Centre of Excellence has three key functions that are designed to improve mental health outcomes for emergency workers through a focus on the practitioners who work with them.

  1. Build the awareness and capability of practitioners to meet the needs of emergency workers whose mental health has been impacted by their work.
  2. Develop a Specialist Network of Clinicians in emergency worker mental health.
  3. Design, deliver and coordinate research and evaluation projects that aim to identify and embed innovative evidence-based mental health treatments.


Common mental health conditions experienced by emergency service workers include PTSD, depression, anxiety, and substance misuse. Associated problems related to sleep, pain, anger, aggression, and physical health comorbidities are also common. By helping practitioners to improve their knowledge and skills to treat these conditions, the centre will increase the availability of effective treatment to emergency service workers.


Through an awareness and education program, practitioners will increase their understanding of the unique culture, working environment, and risks of the emergency services, and gain the knowledge needed to support clients who are at risk or have complex needs.
A free multidisciplinary advisory service will be made available to all Victorian health professionals who care for emergency workers, providing expert guidance and support on individual cases as well as on general enquiries about emergency worker mental health.


The Specialist Network of Clinicians will see emergency workers who have been referred to them by their GP or other practitioner, through a centralised intake and referral service.


Practitioners who wish to be part of the network will receive training, relevant to their professional discipline and practice, in evidence-based, best practice treatments and interventions. Practitioners will be recruited to the training through professional colleges, existing special interest groups, and other networks.


Finally, expanding the evidence base is vital to improving mental health outcomes for emergency service workers, and all people who suffer from mental health issues. The research and evaluation function of the Centre of Excellence will focus on researching and testing innovative, next generation treatments and interventions with a focus on personalised treatment, in order to improve the breadth, quality and impact of treatments for emergency workers.


Getting things underway


As Phoenix Australia commences work on the functions of the centre, consultation will be an important element of planning.


The Victorian government is to be commended for prioritising the mental health of emergency service workers. This Centre of Excellence will support practitioners to ensure emergency workers receive the very best mental health support,” says Professor Forbes.


Further details about recruitment to the Specialist Network of Clinicians and the tailored training programs will be available on the Phoenix Australia website in the coming weeks, and advised through our regular monthly newsletter. For more information about the Centre of Excellence, contact us.