Greater support for mental health of emergency responders

Matt Woodley

2/04/2019 3:47:49 PM

New funding is expected to help develop support services for more than 300,000 police, security and emergency services personnel.

Emergency services personnel
The funding is expected to help develop services for 300,000 police, security and emergency services personnel.

In announcing the almost $6 million in funding, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the Federal Government ‘must do all we can’ to support first responders.
Last year, an Australian-first survey of more than 21,000 police, fire, ambulance and SES employees found 10% likely had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), more than double the population-wide estimate of 4%.
One in three employees had experienced high or very high psychological distress, while emergency services personnel reported having suicidal thoughts at two times the rate of adults in the general population.
Disaster medicine specialist Dr Penny Burns told newsGP that one of the first places emergency responders are likely to look for support is their local GP.
‘GPs need to be aware of likely mental health effects if the responder has been involved in a disaster,’ she said.
‘This is especially true if the responder was ill-prepared for what happened or what they saw, or if they experienced fear or injury to self or colleagues or members of the community – especially if there was malicious intent.
‘GPs also need to be aware of available resources for referral of these groups.’
GPs have been on the frontline of multiple disasters this past summer, including the Townsville floods and devastating Tasmanian bushfires.
As such, Dr Burns said it is important for GPs to be aware of their own mental health during disasters or emergency situations.
‘It’s a really good time to get a message out that GPs do need to look after themselves in these events; because the effects may not be felt immediately, but if they don’t look after themselves the effects will be felt later on,’ she said.
‘It is really important to take stock every couple of days and assess, ‘“How am I tracking? Do I need to step back for a moment?”’
In such instances, Dr Burns said mental health support services such as the Doctors’ Health Advisory Service are ideal resources for GPs to draw on.
Dr Glynn Kelly, Chair of the RACGP Disaster Medicine Specific Interest network, told newsGP that while the funding allocation is relatively small, it’s ‘a start’.
He also noted that most emergency organisations already have their own support systems, but in comparison suggested many GPs either don’t know about, or choose not to use, their own mental health resources.
‘Mental health support should be an integral part of planning, responding and post-emergency support,’ he said.
As part of the new funding package, the Police Federation of Australia will receive $2.5 million from the Department of Health to establish a centre of excellence that will develop a national framework for mental health care for emergency service first responders.
A further $3.3 million will be drawn from confiscated ‘proceeds of crime’ for several initiatives to boost services, and educate and support emergency service workers around mental health issues.
More information on disaster medicine can be found in the RACGP’s Managing emergencies in general practice guidelines.

emergency services funding mental health

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anon   4/04/2019 2:16:54 PM

Training in debriefing may be worthwhile