From left to right: Dean Pattison - Ambulance Victoria, Martin Braid - Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade, Deidre Francis - Victoria Police and Mark Daniels - Gallagher Bassett.
Gallagher Bassett (GB) recently sponsored the 2nd Annual Mental Health Strategies for First Responders national conference. The event provided participants with direct access to not only their peers and colleagues but to mental health experts.
Participants heard from several keynote speakers, which provided the necessary tools to continue improving their mental health programs, focusing on preventative approaches to build resilience while driving an organisational wide cultural change.
At the event GB hosted a panel discussion with Martin Braid, Assistant Chief Fire Officer, Community Resilience, at Metropolitan Fire Brigade, Deirdre Francis, Manager WorkCover & Injury Management at Victoria Police and Dean Pattison, Manager - Workers Compensation and Injury Management at Ambulance Victoria.
Dean Pattison spoke about the preventative work Ambulance Victoria has been doing in the Occupational Violence space using innovative technologies such as virtual reality.
Ambulance Victoria launched a Virtual Paramedic program where paramedics can be put through their paces at the scene of a virtual fire with dozens of patients without the need for a classroom or real-life disaster. It provides a realistic and real-time scenario of a factory fire and grass fire. Ambulance Victoria have won several awards for the Virtual Paramedic program.
Deirdre Francis spoke about the roles which middle managers play in creating mentally healthy workplaces, and Martin Braid spoke on “the specific challenges faced by a paramilitary environment and how can these be overcome”.
Martin addressed the need for a chain of command, increased awareness in mental health and the importance of peer support participation and engagement within the Melbourne Fire Brigade.
Throughout the conference, workshops were held on how to provide support to large groups after a critical incident, how to have mentally healthy conversations in the workplace and how to achieve an organisational wide cultural change.
Key learnings from the workshop included:
- How to implement a proactive mental health & wellbeing framework
- Increased mental health literacy & awareness
- How to support first responders from employment through to retirement
- Tools to create supportive workplace environments
- How to manage complex mental illness & the effects of trauma
As first responders are routinely exposed to higher levels of trauma, this can result in higher levels of stress. In order to reduce the risk of mental illness, strategies to increase awareness and build resilience must be implemented. Tackling the prevalent stigma that surrounds mental health for first responders will require a significant cultural change across the sector.