Response: Mental wellbeing, trauma, depression and suicide in first responders

“First responder mental health is a state of well-being in which a worker realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life and work, can work productively and is able to continue to make a contribution to her or his community.”

Mental Health & Wellbeing Strategy for First Responder Organisations in NSW

The mental health and wellbeing of staff and members must be a key priority for all first responder organisations. First responders are workers who first respond to emergency situations such as Fire, Police, Ambulance, Civil Defence and air rescue services. They are routinely exposed to a range of factors that can increase the risk of mental health problems, including trauma, conflict, lack of control over their work or volunteer environment and unusual working hours. The cumulative trauma exposure experienced by first responders is a unique challenge. Regular exposure to trauma is an unavoidable consequence of the first responder role, but is known to be a risk factor for a range of mental health problems. There has been an increase in the numbers of first responder staff with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who are on extended sick leave or leaving their jobs due to occupation related permanent disability as well as first responders dying by suicide.

There is a range of barriers that may prevent first responders asking for help when needed. These include stigma, embarrassment, lack of knowledge, uncertainty regarding treatment options or concerns regarding the impact seeking help may have on their career. Delays in seeking help can prolong suffering and make recovery more complicated. There is a range of ways in which first responder organisations can seek to reduce barriers to help seeking, including stigma reduction initiatives, mental health education and peer support programs. Managers, team leaders, chaplains and human resource staff all play a key role in assisting staff and members 


First responder organisation should ensure they are promoting and facilitating best treatment practices for their members and staff. First responders also have a responsibility to seek out treatment when needed and to work in partnership with treating clinicians.


This workshop provides an overview of how first responder organisations can be instrumental in reducing the risk of mental disorders and suicide as well as promoting wellbeing and resilience in their staff.  It equips participants with a comprehensive understanding of trauma related depression and suicide and how to recognise and respond to individuals experiencing mental health difficulties.  Participants will examine the particular challenges of suicide in first responders and what the evidence suggests are best practice in supporting staff experiencing severe psychological distress.


With the government identifying wellbeing and mental health as priorities, the workshop will outline the key determinants of staff wellbeing for first responders and the policies, programmes and systems the facilitate mentally well workplaces.


Topics covered:

  • Overview of the phenomenon of suicide and the "suicide moment"

  • Workplace wellbeing strategies for first responder organisations

  • Sad Misery and Depression - Identifying the difference

  • Being strong - Attitudes to mental health and help seeking in male dominant work cultures

  • Trauma and PTSD

  • Past childhood trauma and exposure to work related trauma

  • Impact of work related trauma on partners and family

  • Creating supportive environment for staff

  • Supporting a staff member with trauma related conditions


Workshop Locations in 2019

Click on location for workshop details and online registration

Wellington   1 May                    Christchurch   9 May                    Auckland   24 May               

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