27 September 2023

Firies’ mental health found to be in danger

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Volunteer firefighters need more help to manage the mental health impacts of responding to bushfires, according new research funded by the Department of Health and Aged Care.

Highlighting the University of Western Australia’s (UWA) After the Fires research project, the Department said it was the largest ever pre- and post-bushfire fighters survey of the mental health impacts of responding to bushfires.

Principle Research Fellow at UWA, David Lawrence said that across Australia, 82,480 people responded to the 2019/2020 fires

“Many first responders faced traumatic or life-threatening events during the fires,” Dr Lawrence said.

“More than 5,000 reported a high need for mental health support,” he said.

“This included probable posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and thinking about suicide.”

Dr Lawrence said the data showed that two years after the fires, only 1,000 people had received enough mental health support to meet their needs.

“This is concerning because mental health problems escalate over time,” the Research Fellow said.

“Untreated symptoms progress and serious disorders can emerge many years later.

“By then they are much harder to treat”

He said the project found mental health risks for first responders were cumulative – “the more traumatic events they experience over time, the more they need mental health support”.

Dr Lawrence said he hoped his research would help bring about a change in culture among volunteer agencies.

“We need to make sure that we can support communities to be able to look after themselves,” he said.

“Volunteer fire fighters need to get mental health support if they need it, so they can continue the important work that they’re doing for us.”

The UWA’s 47-page After the Fires Report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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