Are Emergency Services First Responders in a “State of Crisis”?

August 16, 2019

Some of the great unsung heroes of the Australian community are our emergency first responders.

These are the people in our community who are on the front line to help, serve and enhance community safety.

By the very nature of their roles, emergency services first responders are routinely exposed to critical incidents and traumatic events. We share others trauma, loss and devastation often with varied resilience and personal vulnerabilities. Collectively, these experiences and reactions can take a significant toll, potentially placing first responders at high risk of developing mental health issues and suicide.

Louise Murphy

Australian media described the Australian emergency services personnel being in a “state of crisis,” as suicide rates are increasing by between 450% and 800% annually over the past few years.

National Coronial Information System 2015 statistics reported around Australia shows 110 police officers, paramedics and firefighters died by suicide between July 2000 and December 2012, revealing further that one police officer, paramedic or firefighter is taking their own life every six weeks (National Coronial Information System Intentional Self-Harm Among Emergency Services Personnel 2015)

With these alarming and unacceptable statistics, it is essential that emergency service agencies now look to care for and protect their people.

Peer Support Programs have an emerging evidence base and are highly valued by the people who use them. A growing body of literature has increasingly been able to demonstrate positive outcomes for peer support in the context of workplace programs for emergency services first responders.

Peer Support Programs have been shown globally, to create a more resilient workforce, decrease the burden on the healthcare system, reduce mental health issues and most importantly save lives.

Peer support occurs when people share common concerns or problems and support is provided to help the person manage problems and promote personal growth. Peer support is not bringing people to the table but rather its going to their table. At present there are many emergency services in Australia who offer Peer Support Programs as a strategy to ensure the safety and well-being of personnel.  However, throughout these agencies there are variations in the programs and practices with no standardised approach identified. These Peer Support Programs range from psycho-social interventions to crisis focussed, to resilience building programs.

The challenge I put to the peer support providers within our emergency service organisations is that we need to now look to the best practice, leading models and lessons learnt to inform the best possible mental health outcome for first responders. Through the Churchill Fellowship I aim to bring together this information and to deliver international best practices to the Australian first responder community and its leaders to reduce mental health issues and suicide rates.


Emergency services mental health crisis: police, firefighter suicide rate spikes

By Julia May – The Age Newspaper. Feb 2016

This article was kindly written and contributed by our 2019 Frontline Mental Health Conference ambassador Louise Murphy.