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Support is there - and not just for incidents
In February 2009, serving as a resources unit leader during the Black Saturday bushfires, Jess Harris was proud of the fact that she was proactive about seeking counselling for both herself and her team between shifts.
A few years later, Jess went through tough times of a different sort. But this time, she didn’t think to access CFA welfare services – and now wants to urge others to make sure they do seek help when they need it, and to do it early.
Jess is one of the more than 1 in 7 mums in Australia to have experienced postnatal depression – and and now wants to urge others to make sure they do seek help when they need it, and to do it early.
“I’ve only just realised now that my first port of call could have been those three free sessions every CFA member is entitled to,” she says. “It was a lost opportunity. But at the time it just didn’t occur to me that those services were available for issues that weren’t related to work or an incident.
“The delay in getting help for me led to issues becoming entrenched and a longer recovery time.”
For her, one of the biggest hurdles – especially with young children to care for – was being caught up in the day to day need to ‘just get things done’.
“There was no way I’d prioritise anything to do with me,” she explains. “I started feeling I wasn’t good enough, not just at being a mother and partner, but also as an employee. It was hard to break the habit of thinking this way after so long.”
Jess eventually found good information and sustained support through the organisation Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA).
These days, back on track, and better informed, Jess is also conscious of how issues like stress, anxiety and depression not only affect the sufferer but for the people around them – especially partners. She points out it’s important for people in that supporting role to know services are available for them too.
“The stigma surrounding depression is changing with better awareness but it still can be very difficult for people to know what to do or how to act,” says Jess.
“I think it’s good for people in leadership roles, whether that’s a manager or your captain, to know about the kind of tools and strategies that will help them to help someone who might be going through a rough patch.”
Her partner also called PANDA via their helpline, and that single phone call was enough to run him through the main practical tips around how to support Jess, including the triggers or signs to be aware of.
“Blokes need a hand too – they also experience sleepless nights, learning how to be a parent and how to support their partner, but are often expected to just man up just because they weren’t the one who delivered the baby.”
PANDA’s website highlights some eye-opening statistics, especially when it comes to new dads. As many as one in 10 dads suffer from post natal depression. More than 100,000 parents struggle with perinatal depression each year in Australia.
While the condition is not uncommon, the symptoms are genuine and serious, and can include panic attacks, increased sensitivity to noise or touch, extreme lethargy and feeling physically or emotionally overwhelmed or unable to cope.
“It’s not something people should feel they just have to put up with,” says Jess.
Nowadays, better equipped and better informed, she has this message for any CFA member concerned about depression, stress or anxiety from any cause – be proactive about seeking information from good sources.
“Sometimes it does need to be the right person at the right time, with the right information, and that might come from a service.”
“So even if there is just one person – a partner, friend, fellow brigade member – who can relate to what happened to me, my story is worth sharing.”
CFA welfare support
- Member Assistance Program (1300 795 711): 24-hour counselling available to CFA members and immediate family
- Peer Support Program: trained members offering support and guidance (cfa.vic.gov.au/mentalhealth)
- HeadsUp online tool (cfa.vic.gov.au/headsup): information and advice about managing mental health and relationship issues
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia)
PANDA is keen to support any new parent struggling during pregnancy or after the birth of their baby, as well as their partner, family and friends.
National Helpline – 1300 726 306