Mental health crisis deepens for emergency workers

the age mental healthAt least five Victorian police officers, paramedics and firefighters are taking leave for psychological injuries every week, as new data shows worsening mental health among frontline staff.

WorkSafe statistics obtained by Fairfax Media reveal the number of insurance claims for mental health injuries have surged 25 per cent in five years for emergency services personnel, with 305 claims lodged in 2015 alone.

Psychological injuries now account for almost a quarter of all worker compensation claims from Victoria Police, Ambulance Victoria, the State Emergency Service and the state's fire agencies.

The spike in claims comes as Victoria Police voices rising concerns about traumatic stress and suicides within the force, and undertakes a high-level mental health review.

Three police employees have killed themselves so far this year, and a serving policewoman is suing the force for damages, claiming she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after attending the death of Darcey Freeman, who was thrown from the West Gate Bridge by her father in 2009.

WorkSafe Victoria's new chief executive, Clare Amies, said mental health problems were a serious issue in emergency service workplaces, and had become a "top priority" for the regulator.

"These people go into work every day doing pretty tough things … meeting people who are also going through bad situations," she said. "But it is the responsibility of the employer to make sure that there are systems and structures within that environment to reduce the risks of being physically or mentally injured, and supports in place if it does happen."

For Melbourne paramedic Al Briggs, there was no single trigger: the stress consumed him slowly, and built up over time, following a series of fatal callouts.

"You just pick up ghosts," he said.

"Some arsonists blew themselves up in a pizza shop ... then there was a fatal car accident when people were doing burnouts out the front of a party.

"The one that affected me the most was a little girl, a week short of her second birthday, who was reversed over in the driveway. Her brother had nicked out the front to play footy, and she snuck out behind him." To read more at The Age click here.

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This conference will bring together leading clinical practitioners, academics, service providers and mental health experts to deliberate and discuss Mental Health issues confronting Australia and New Zealand.

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