Protecting those who protect us

First responders are ordinary people facing extraordinary situations in their day-to-day work to keep the community safe. While there are many rewarding aspects of being a first responder, it is a high-pressure role with increased exposure to traumatic events. There may also be aspects of the role that impact life outside of work, such as shift work and being on call. 

It has been estimated that emergency service personnel are twice as likely to develop anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder and understandably, a great deal of work focuses on helping with recovery from these mental health conditions. 

But what if we can build on first responders’ skills and resources so that they can reduce the impact of trauma and other stressors and identify earlier when things aren’t going well? 

That’s why Breakthrough, in collaboration with Movember Foundation and Flinders University Institute of Mental Health and Wellbeing, will be launching the Protecting Emergency Responders with Evidence-Based Interventions (PEREI) Training Project. 

PEREI is designed to deliver targeted wellbeing and resilience programs aimed to assist emergency responders to build skills, boost support, and help look after themselves early in their early careers. It aims to improve resilience to the potentially negative effects of stressors, whether that’s exposure to traumatic events or organisational and operational challenges. 

The program offers a three-pronged approach covering key areas critical to maintaining good mental health – an individual’s coping strategies, support network, and supervisor’s knowledge and communication around mental health. 

PEREI goes above and beyond existing wellbeing programmes, extending support to families of first responders and training to supervisors. 

Since research indicates that supervisors have a critical role in creating a positive workplace environment, including making it comfortable to seek help when needed, PEREI reaches supervisors with key training in this area. 

PEREI is unique in that it not only directly helps the first responder, but can also include their significant supports (i.e., family members, close friends, partners) and their supervisors, through three interconnected programs: 

  1.  First responder wellbeing and resilience program 

  2.  Wellbeing program tailored for first responders’ significant others 

  3.  Supervisor program 

These three programs are underpinned by evidence-based interventions that have been proven to be effective both internationally and within Australia. They will be tailored to suit Australian first responders and their significant supports and supervisors so that they are more relevant and accessible, and to maximise wellbeing outcomes. 

It’s through the support of the community that together, we can help create a life free from mental illness.