News & Media

Comprehensive mental health support to members

By: Mick Bourke

  11.00 AM 25 February, 2013

Views: 3451

CFA has a proud history of providing high quality mental health services to its members and their families.

It is fitting that we pause to recognise our Peer Support Program at this time, having this past couple of weeks commemorated the 4th anniversary of Black Saturday, and the 30th anniversary of the Ash Wednesday fires. Not all members would be aware that the Program began as a grass roots movement amongst firefighters involved in Ash Wednesday, who recognised that firefighters needed emotional and psychological support to deal with the potentially traumatic elements of their roles.

The foresight shown by these members at a time when little was known about the emotional and psychological impact of trauma should not be underestimated. While research has advanced in relation to treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and other mental illnesses associated with trauma, one thing has remained constant, and that is the critical importance and efficacy of peer support programs.

For more than 25 years now we have been operating our Peer Support Program and we have more than 150 volunteer and career peers within the network who have completed a 12-month training program. Peers travel to wherever they are needed around the state and offer a skilled listening ear to help members and their families respond to traumatic and distressing events, as well as the cumulative difficulties that life sometimes throws our way. In all cases, the peer's goal is to help the individual to 'reconnect' with their own coping skills. Where more support is required, the peer acts as a skilled navigator and networker and will support their client to access other services.

But peers also offer other personalised services such as driving members to hospital appointments and visiting them in Melbourne hospitals. Many of our members will be familiar with the valuable support work that peers perform at staging areas during major incidents. Peers also accompany members to court when they are required to give evidence in legal proceedings on behalf of CFA. Members and their families are also able to access chaplaincy services within a pastoral care model in which all chaplains have counselling training. Psychologists can also be accessed through our Member Assistance Program (MAP) with both the psychologists and chaplains provided through external contractors to guarantee their independence.

All services are confidential, free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Services are available through a range of channels including face-to-face meetings, online or over the phone, as determined by the client.

It's important that all members are clear that CFA's mental health support for members has not decreased regardless of recent budget-saving measures.

Our Organisational Wellbeing department oversees the provision of these services, working closely with our Claims and Injury Management team to ensure that members are provided with support and treatment to meet their needs.

We also have a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which provides guidance on the activation of support services in an operational context.

The CFA Board has recently approved our Health, Safety and Environment (HS&E) Strategy which clarifies that health and safety are both physical and psychological issues. The Australian Centre for Post Traumatic Mental Health, Australia's peak independent trauma research body, has reviewed CFA's HS&E Strategy against its trauma research and validated our strategic priorities.

We continuously strive to improve both our services and our members' knowledge and understanding of mental health issues. As such, our services include a significant education and awareness component. An example is new career firefighters receiving training on stress and potential trauma.

Our education recognises the need to promote personal accountability for accessing support in times of difficulty and crisis regardless of the cause.

We also seek advice and input from other agencies both within the emergency services and outside - such as BeyondBlue - to support and ensure improvement. We recently completed a member satisfaction survey on our welfare services and the results showed high levels of member satisfaction with the services.

The media has recently reported on the Newcastle Centre of Full Employment and Equity study into mental health support for firefighters. This study was carried out without the involvement of CFA.

CFA recognises that firefighting can be risky and stressful and the health and welfare of emergency management employees and volunteers is an absolute priority.

Last Updated: 10 December 2015