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Business | Legal | Occupational Health & Safety

Protecting our protectors: addressing PTSD in the police force and emergency services

31 Jan 2019, by Amy Sarcevic

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an often debilitating mental health condition that results from witnessing or experiencing a single or series of traumatic events.

It is now one of the leading causes of workers’ compensation claims in Australia, particularly in the police force and emergency services, in which the prevalence of the disorder is almost double the national average.

Until recently, there has been a lack of reliable or ‘ecologically valid’ (contextually relevant) research indicating the impact of PTSD within the police force and emergency services, despite these occupations predisposing workers to trauma on a daily basis.

Beyond Blue – an Australian, independent non-profit organisation which provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health – have set out to address this through their Police and Emergency Services Program.

As part of this program, Beyond Blue has undertaken a world first research study into the impact of mental health conditions for Australian police and emergency services personnel.

The study consists of three phases. The first – a qualitative (non-numerical) phase – involved extensive consultation; gathering stories and personal accounts of employees, former employees and relatives of these on their experiences of mental health at work.

The second – a quantitative (numerical) phase – involved a survey of 21,000 employees, volunteers and former employees, to assess the prevalence of mental health disorders within police and emergency services, as well as the key risk and protective factors, at a national level.

The final phase will involve the translation of these findings into meaningful advice; enabling agencies to develop appropriate mental health strategies and implement protective factors within their respective organisations.

Patrice O’Brien GM Workplace, Partnerships and Engagement at Beyond Blue says, “Many police and emergency service agencies have a range of workplace mental health programs in place currently. However, in some instances, these programs do not provide comprehensive mental health support to employees at all stages of their career, and across the mental health continuum”.

“Beyond Blue advocates an integrated approach that promotes a positive workplace culture, effectively manages mental health risks at work and supports people with or without a mental health condition. We hope that phase three of our research will help agencies to develop a comprehensive strategy, and for those that have already done so, to review and enhance their strategy.”

“What we can’t do within police and emergency services is mitigate the risk factors as, unfortunately, these factors are an inherent aspect of the job. However, with the guidance of qualitative and quantitative data we can make a difference by introducing the appropriate protective factors to ensure that our nation’s protectors are well protected”.

Presenting at the National Workers’ Compensation Summit, Beyond Blue will share some of the themes of this revolutionary research and discuss how police forces and emergency services can interpret the results to make positive changes within their organisations.

You may download the full agenda here.

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