ESF Research

Stigma and Helpseeking

In 2021, ESF contracted Phoenix Australia to develop an evidence-based understanding of stigma and its relationship to barriers or enablers to help-seeking for mental health with funds donated by the Melbourne Firefighters Stair Climb event.

Literature reveals that emergency services people who experience sub-clinical mental health concerns (e.g., anger, sleep, relationship difficulties) can be at increased risk of developing mental disorders if they do not recognise their symptoms, seek help early and get the help they need. Stigma including anticipated public stigma, self-stigma and service or agency concerns, are known to be barriers to help seeking, and there is a strong preference for wanting to self-manage mental health issues.

What we didn’t have was a deeper understanding of how we could better encourage early help seeking.

The project began in a Stigma Think Tank in 2020, which was facilitated by ESF and Phoenix Australia and included contributions from agency representatives across the sector, insurers, WorkSafe and Beyond Blue. The outcomes of the Think Tank informed the development of the scope, focus and methods of the study, which were further refined in a co-design workshop.

The study investigated:

  • what people identify as their experience of the earliest signs, symptoms or changes in their mental health and wellbeing
  • what kinds of workplace factors and interventions they would find most helpful
  • delivered through what forms or modalities, and with what kinds of communications messaging.

A qualitative methodology relying on long-form, semi-structured interviews was selected to generate deep insights into the experience and meanings of mental health stigma and barrier to help-seeking. Conversations were structured around our key areas of interest, while also allowing for open dialogue from respondents regarding their own experiences, and the meanings, attitudes and motivations underpinning these.

After attaining Melbourne University ethics clearance,  emergency management workers and volunteers from a cross-section of Victorian agencies and organisations were interviewed.  The interviewees were from operational and corporate roles, and including members who were transitioning to retirement. This allowed for a broad range of perspectives and experiences to be captured.

The findings of the study and recommendations to promote personal help seeking are presented in this report.

The report has been presented to ESFs Stakeholder Council and Learning Network and will be used to inform work across the sector to drive improved early intervention and help seeking. It has been immediately applied to ESFs Leading for Better Mental Health and Mental health Matters programs