Media contact

Dan Wheelahan
UNSW Media Office
02 9385 1933 or 0435 930 465

The confronting work of NSW’s emergency services can lead front-line workers and volunteers to experience severe mental distress. Now a new strategy is taking powerful steps to protect and support our first responders.

The Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy for First Responder Organisations in NSW, launched today by the NSW Premier Mike Baird, will guide first responder agencies in their efforts to protect and promote the mental well-being of their members.

One in 10 emergency workers is estimated to be living with post traumatic stress disorder.

The strategy is a collaboration between UNSW, the Black Dog Institute, the NSW Mental Health Commission and the state’s emergency service agencies. NSW is the first state in Australia to work with first responder agencies to develop a shared mental health and wellbeing strategy.

Lead author UNSW Associate Professor Sam Harvey said the strategy emphasises mental health promotion, prevention and intervention.

“We know that first responders are regularly exposed to different types of trauma, from witnessing distressing events to having their own lives placed in danger, and for many this comes at a significant cost to their own well-being,” said Harvey, who is based at the Black Dog Institute.

“This strategy is built around the evidence on what is most likely to keep our emergency workers well, from the time they join a first responder organisation through to their retirement, and how to ensure they get the best quality care and have leaders that are supportive if required.

“Given the debt that society owes these workers, it is imperative they receive the best possible care and support to enable them to continue in their chosen workforce.”

NSW Mental Health Commissioner John Feneley said cooperation between five agencies – Fire & Rescue NSW, NSW Police Force, NSW Ambulance, NSW State Emergency Service and NSW Rural Fire Service – demonstrated their commitment to improving mental health and wellbeing among their ranks.

“Historically, a culture of ‘she’ll be right, mate’ meant that first responders were suffering in silence, often resulting in them leaving work prematurely rather than receiving support and assistance. But that culture has been undergoing significant change in recent years,” Mr Feneley said.

“New South Wales now leads the way in delivering evidence-based strategies to care for and support those who put themselves in danger to protect us.”

The NSW Government also announced today its ongoing support of the UNSW/Black Dog Institute Workplace Mental Health Research Program, with a further commitment of $1.5 million over the next three years.