Police and emergency service workers report suicidal thoughts twice as often as other adults and are three times more likely to have a suicide plan.
Groundbreaking new research released today by Beyond Blue will also show one in three cops and emergency service workers experience high or very high psychological distress compared to one in eight Australian adults.
A further three in four first responders who made a claim for psychological injury due to their work found the current workers’ compensation process to be “detrimental to their recovery.”
The landmark research – carried out by the University of Western Australia – is believed the biggest study ever of police and emergency service workers in Australia and internationally with regards to mental health issues.
More than 21,000 police, fire, ambulance and SES employees and volunteers from 33 different agencies across the country took part in the ‘answering the call’ study.
The study was commissioned and funded by Beyond Blue and conducted by UWA researchers in partnership with Roy Morgan Research.
Those who took part answered questions about their wellbeing, anxiety conditions, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts.
The study found:
• Over half of the first responders surveyed experienced a traumatic event during the course of their work that deeply affected them;
• Poor workplace practices and culture are equally debilitating as exposure to trauma;
• Those who have worked more than 10 years in police and emergency services are almost twice as likely to experience psychological distress and six times more likely to have PTSD symptoms compared to those with less than two years’ service; and
• Employees and volunteers report suicidal thoughts over two times more often than adults in the general population and are three times more likely to have a suicide plan.
“Never before have so many current and former police and emergency services personnel and volunteers been surveyed in such depth about their individual or organisational mental health,” Beyond Blue chief executive Georgie Harman said.
“The results will arm everyone with unprecedented national data and insights from those who serve to protect us and keep us safe.
“It is now everyone’s responsibility…to come together to convert this evidence into further action and lasting change.”
UWA Professor David Lawrence said the project had been a major undertaking.
He said he was overwhelmed by how many people responded to the study.
“The number of people participating in this survey is by far the largest study of mental health and wellbeing ever to be undertaken among police and emergency services organisations, in Australia and internationally,” he said.
Over the past 18 months WAtoday has written extensively about mental health issues among first responders, particularly within the WA Police.
As previously reported by WAtoday a June police union article highlighted feedback from WA officers indicating they were “afraid” to deal with the Health and Safety Division at WA Police on matters impacting their mental health because it could adversely affect their career development.
Last year the WA Police Union said it was pushing for a national inquiry into the number of officers dying across Australia.
A coronial inquest was held in August into the death of Detective Sergeant Scott Blanchard, who took his own life while on duty in 2015.
In her findings in regards to Det-Sgt Blanchard’s death Deputy State Coroner Evelyn Vicker said she was satisfied the WA Police Health and Safety Division was actively attempting to engage more with police officers and their families.
But she recommended the agency better emphasise to serving members that their families should be made aware of the availability of its services.
WAtoday is aware of at least three former and current WA Police officers who have taken their own lives since February last year. One of them was Darren Igglesden, 50, who died at the Cockburn police station in October.