Emergency services workers need to be proactive in caring for their mental health to reduce the impacts of trauma

“Emergency services workers may attend car accidents, suicides, bushfires or family violence incidents—they enter a high-risk industry for mental health injury,” says Tim Peck, Senior Specialist Police and Emergency Services at Phoenix Australia.


“So, when they join that industry, they need to focus on their own mental health. In policing, you go to the academy and do plenty of physical training ready to go out on the job but the reality is that you’re more likely to get a mental health injury than a physical injury. Throughout their career, it’s imperative that emergency services workers concentrate on their mental health and have a strong care plan in place.”


Tim says the cumulative effect of witnessing traumatic event after traumatic event can take a toll on mental health. Knowing who to reach out to and what resources are available is important in ensuring emergency services workers get the right support at the right time.


We often see members become unwell over time because they don’t address their mental health. They get caught in that loop of pushing on and pushing. The trauma mounts up until they get to a point where they can’t continue,” he explains.


Preparing for this potential eventuality is a wise step that can help stem the impacts of trauma. This might include knowing which GP or clinician you will see, having a psychologist or counsellor in mind, understanding the resources that are available within the workplace, knowing which friends or colleagues you might contact for support, or any combination of these.


Tim says part of the mental health plan could be contacting Responder Assist. The service might be particularly helpful for those concerned about the stigma of being seen as unable to cope, as Responder Assist is confidential and independent.


“When you are stressed, you may not want to tell your boss or colleague because you’re embarrassed and think it will affect your career. As an external, independent body, Responder Assist can remove that barrier,” says Tim.


“We work collaboratively with emergency services agencies to ensure workers have a full understanding of what help is available to them. We discuss and assess where a person is at and give them options—it might be contacting their own Employee Assistance Program, seeing their GP for a mental health check, arranging some sessions with a psychologist, or taking them into our network of clinicians for treatment. We aren’t taking away from what agencies are already doing, but we’re providing another option.”