Australian Police, Emergency Services Workers Report High Rates of Psychological Distress

During the Answering the call survey, more than 21,000 police, fire, ambulance, and SES employees, volunteers, and retired and former employees answered questions about their wellbeing, anxiety conditions, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and thoughts of suicide.

One in three police and emergency services employees in Australia report experiencing high or very high psychological distress, according to research by Beyond Blue, an Australian non-profit organization focused on mental illness. The organization released Nov. 29 the results of a research study about the mental health and wellness of police and emergency service workers across 33 agencies in every Australian state and territory.

During the Answering the call survey, more than 21,000 police, fire, ambulance, and SES employees, volunteers, and retired and former employees answered questions about their well-being, anxiety conditions, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and thoughts of suicide.

"Never before have so many current and former police and emergency services personnel and volunteers been surveyed in such depth about their individual or organizational mental health," Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman said.

Beyond Blue's survey found:

  • One in three police and emergency services workers said they experience high or very high psychological distress, as opposed to 1 in 8 Australian adults.
  • More than 1 in 2.5 employees and 1 in 3 volunteers reported being diagnosed with a mental health condition in their life, as opposed to 1 in 5 Australian adults.
  • Employees and volunteers in the emergency services and police sector reported experiencing thoughts of suicide more than two times more often than adults in the general Australian population, and are three times more likely to have formed a suicide plan.
  • More than half of employees surveyed had experienced a traumatic event during their work that had deeply impacted them.
  • Poor practices and culture in the workplace were as debilitating as exposure to trauma.
  • Employees who had worked more than 10 years in police and emergency services were almost twice as likely to report experiencing psychological distress and six times more likely to show PTSD symptoms compared to those with less than two years in police and emergency services.
  • Three in four employees who had claimed psychological injury found that the current process for workers' compensation was detrimental to their recovery.

"The results will arm everyone with unprecedented national data and insights from those who serve to protect us and keep us safe," Harman said. "It is now everyone's responsibility – governments, agencies, police and emergency services personnel and their families, unions and peak bodies, services and other stakeholders – to come together to convert this evidence into further action and lasting change."

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