Study to examine mental health impact on emergency services workers

A new study led by The University of Western Australia aims to understand the mental health impact on emergency services workers who routinely respond to bushfires.

The researchers from UWA, Flinders University, The Road Home and Roy Morgan Research, supported by Beyond Blue, are working with fire and emergency service agencies across Australia, who will invite employees and volunteers to participate in the ‘After the fires’ study.

The online survey will examine the mental health and wellbeing of emergency services workers around Australia, looking at both the short-term and the long-term cumulative effects of responding to significant emergencies. It is available by contacting the scientists listed on the research project website.

It will focus on the deadly 2019-2020 summer fires across Australia, as well as impacts of responding to bushfires in general.

The study follows up on research called ‘Answering the call’ that found one in three police and emergency services’ employees experienced high or very high psychological distress compared to one in eight Australian adults.

Project leader Professor David Lawrence, from UWA’s Graduate School of Education, said emergency services personnel put themselves on the front line to protect people’s lives, but sometimes the mental health impact of doing so could take its toll.

“The 2019-2020 bushfire season was one of the most intense and devastating ever seen in Australia’s history and there is little doubt that people on the front line would have been significantly affected at the time, and may continue to be affected for many years to come,” Professor Lawrence said.

“We’re keen to hear from bushfire responders to better understand the impacts this work can have and how we can improve the support available to them.

“Sometimes it’s not an area people feel comfortable talking about, or perhaps the mental health impacts can take a while to show, so we are hoping this anonymous survey will help offer insight into an area that is not well understood.”

Professor Lawrence said the study was important because in order for emergency services to best protect people’s lives and property, they also needed support.

“As the climate continues to warm, and severe weather events become more and more frequent into the future, supporting those at the coalface has never been more important,” he said.

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