beyondblue Chairman, The Hon. Jeff Kennett today expressed his deep concern and sadness at hearing about the suicide death of yet another police officer – and said we need the assistance of all first responder organisations to work together with beyondblue to help prevent staff becoming psychologically distressed and to provide effective support when needed.
“I am so tired of hearing about highly-trained, dedicated people who serve our community becoming so distressed that they see no point in continuing to live. I find this senseless loss of life incredibly distressing.
“Not only is a death of a work colleague devastating, it shatters families and leaves a gaping emotional hole that sometimes, can never be repaired. Suicide can be prevented. To stop first responders from taking their lives, we need everyone to act. We need this to be foremost in the minds of leaders of first responder agencies, and of our community and political leaders. By putting processes in place, it’s possible to identify who is at risk of suicide and provide the help they need promptly.
“beyondblue is already working with leaders of first responder organisations to protect the mental health of police officers, paramedics, fire, rescue and State Emergency Service workers. We also need to be mindful that in this line of work, it’s not just the paid employees who are at risk of mental health problems and suicide, it is also former and retired workers, volunteers and their families.
“As a community, we are letting down the very people on whom we rely to give us emergency assistance when we become ill, when we are facing a natural disaster such as a fire or flood, or when we are involved in an accident of some kind. These people risk life and limb on a daily basis to save the lives of people they’ve never met, and sometimes the burden of the job becomes too heavy for them to carry. We owe it to them to help and support them when they need it.
“Can you imagine what the repeated exposure to death, trauma and violence can do to people when it’s served up to them on a daily basis? Add to that the disruption shift work and long working hours cause to their families and social life – and even the most resilient and tough people are likely to need support occasionally.
“These men and women have dedicated themselves to careers that expose them daily to shocking and difficult ‘life and death’ situations – and we need to address the culture and stigmatising attitudes that make them fear for their careers and often prevent them from admitting that they need help. They may think that showing emotion and expressing a need for help will make others think they are weak.
“For several years now, we have been working with the medical profession to improve the mental health of doctors and medical students. We are seeing action and cultural change – and we hope to make similar inroads with first responders. I’m proud that beyondblue’s work with first responder organisations is well underway. We have looked at the issues and we are assembling an expert advisory group to help us develop an organisational mental health framework for all first responder agencies. This will be available FREE, early in 2016, to all first responder services in Australia regardless of size, service type or location.
We will also be conducting world-first research on the mental health of first responders and expect to have the results by the second half of 2017. To find out more, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
“In the meantime, I implore anyone working at the coalface in these organisations and is finding it hard to cope, to contact the mental health professionals at our confidential Support Service – either by phone (1300 22 4636), online chat (3pm till midnight AEDT) or email at www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support
“We have online forums as well, where people can discuss what’s worrying them and seek advice from people who may have been in similar situations, and you can remain anonymous – www.beyondblue.org.au/forums.”