News

World-first research into Australian police and emergency services personnel’s mental health reaches next phase

12 April 2017

World-first research by beyondblue will invite up to 20,000 current and former personnel from 34 police and emergency organisations across Australia to participate in a survey about their mental health and risk of suicide.

As part of the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Study of Police and Emergency Services, beyondblue is working closely with employers, personnel and their families on practical strategies to improve the mental health of police and emergency services workers and volunteers.

It is the first time data is being collected on a national scale from police and emergency service organisations. The research is being conducted in three phases after qualitative analysis was gathered in phase one last year.

From August 2017, police and emergency service workers will be surveyed about their wellbeing; common mental health conditions; suicide risk; stigma; help-seeking behaviour; and factors supporting, or jeopardising, mental health in the workplace.

The University of Western Australia and Roy Morgan Research are working together on phase two of the study which is expected to conclude in December.

The Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre – a national not-for-profit organisation researching issues of importance to Australia’s fire and emergency service authorities – has generously provided a funding contribution to the study and will support beyondblue’s work.

“The only national statistic we have about the mental health of police and emergency service workers is a devastating one – 110 Australian police and emergency services workers died by suicide between 2010 and 2012,” said beyondblue CEO Georgie Harman.

beyondblue’s reputation is based on its use of scientifically sound, evidence-based research from which we build and develop programs to promote a better understanding of depression and anxiety and suicide prevention,” Ms Harman said.

Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre CEO Dr Richard Thornton said the project will provide important information to understand both the number of people affected and the range of issues they face.

“The understanding we gain will be used to design interventions to support them and their families and improve personal, family and agency outcomes,” Dr Thornton said.

In phase one, completed in November last year by Whereto Research, current and former police and emergency service employees, volunteers and family members were interviewed about their experiences of mental health conditions in which participants felt at risk of suicide.

Initial findings suggest:

  • the nature of the stigma associated with mental health conditions differs across police, fire and rescue and ambulance services;
  • although exposure to trauma is seen as an underlying cause for PTSD, workplace culture and practices also contribute to the prevalence of mental health conditions;
  • working in police and emergency services, particularly for volunteers, can support workers’ mental health.

 “In phase three, beyondblue will work alongside police and emergency service organisations to identify strategies to practically address the issues raised by the findings of this research,” Ms Harman said.

These evidence-based strategies will support individuals, improve organisational culture and address systemic concerns that impact on mental health and wellbeing across the sector nationally. They will be developed in collaboration with a cross-section of the police and emergency services sector including agencies, unions, government departments, individuals and family and community groups around Australia.

The research is expected to be finalised by December 2018. 

 

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