A new program designed to help firefighting recruits cope with stress and anxiety after experiencing traumatic events in Western Australia could soon also be extended to their families.

The resilience-building program is designed to lower post-traumatic stress symptoms in Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) recruits who have confronted bushfires and road accidents.

Curtin University clinical psychology PhD candidate Petra Skeffington developed the program, which also aims to prevent mental health issues like depression and anxiety in high-risk professions.

Ms Skeffington said reducing stigma using social supports and identifying emotions were key in building resilience.w1200_h678_fmax

She said preliminary results from the first six months of data showed lower levels of mental health symptoms in the training group.

“What I’m tracking is how many minor traumas or potentially traumatic events they’re being exposed to,” she said.

“We do know that trauma has a cumulative effect.”

Police, paramedics and others who work in emergency services are also considered at high risk of post-traumatic stress because of their exposure to multiple traumatic events.
Emergency workers confronted by carnage
United Firefighters Union WA secretary Kevin Jolly said high-speed car crashes and house fires were among the worst incidents to deal with.

“Firefighters and police and emergency services in general see a lot of carnage over their careers,” he said.

“It’s not for everyone. The ones that affected me the most are house fires with kids.

“It’s where you have to deal with the families. That’s quite hard to deal with.”

Mr Jolly welcomed the new program.

“There’s not enough known about [PTSD], so I guess anything done in that field is a good thing,” he said.

Ms Skeffington said she had discussed with DFES the possibility of extending the program to more experienced firefighters and their families as well.

“This program could be applicable to family members as well,” she said.

“Boosting resilience across the family unit is important, it’s something that we’ve seen them doing in the US army in their resilience program.”

This article first appeared on ‘ABC News’ on 29 July 2014.


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