Knowledge Digest

ESF’s Knowledge Digests summarises an eclectic variety of research on mental health and wellbeing of general interest to the sector. They are uploaded in the first week of the month, except December and January.

May 2024

This digest presents key findings of a study commissioned by the British Columbian Fire Service to better understand the state of mental health awareness, worker needs and interest in training. In addition to highlighting overlaps in issues that Victorian agencies face, the article highlights the value of doing internal research to finding person-centered solutions. Read it here and, as an FYI here is a link to an article that came out about  mental health needs in the BC fire service as the digest was being sent. 

April 2024

Incivility is far from a personal issue. It harms an organisation in many ways including in poor retention rates and, because it sets the standards of acceptability, it shapes workplace culture. This knowledge digest summarises information about incivility from a Harvard Business review article ‘The Price of Incivility’’ and from the WorkSafe Victoria website. In addition to providing stats and facts, it provides a list of strategies and tips on how to curtail incivility. Read it here.

March 2024

We all know how special it is to have friends at work but did you know there is scientific evidence that work friendships are a strong predictor of cognitive functioning, resilience, wellbeing and engagement? This digest summarises an article from the Harvard Business Review to highlight why supporting workers to cultivate friendships (via job design) is of value as an early intervention for mental health.  This specific kind of social connection boosts job satisfaction and productivity as well as giving mental health benefits to employees. Read it here.

February 2024

This knowledge digest summarises two articles on burnout, an issue impacting the emergency management and other sectors. One focuses on the recovery aspect and the other on how to lead teams of people suffering burnout. Practical articles have been selected over theoretical. Conceptually, burnout is your body’s response to experiencing too much stress and your physical and mental reserves are depleted. Read it here.

November 2023 

This month’s Knowledge Digest summarises the findings of ‘After the Fires’ –  a major study on the impacts of direct and indirect exposure to those involved in the Black Summer response. What is especially interesting about this research is that it was conducted by the same team that did Answering the Call (2018) on behalf of Beyond Blue led by David Lawrence. After the Fires builds on this keystone study by providing further data on the persistence of mental health impacts related to the work and gives personal insights from those involved in responding to the Bushfires.  My summary includes the study’s recommendations and as a bonus, I have pasted some of the infographics at the end. Read it here.

October 2023

This knowledge digest summarises a Canadian best practice back-to-work program for police officers , a model that has also been used for other public safety personnel.  The program, which has two streams, and is peer-led and holistic.  It also explains the program evaluation results and lessons learned. Read it here.

September 2023

In this CSIRO published paper, ‘Mental health, psychological safety and psychosocial safety – same but different?’ Nada Wentzel provides guidance on navigating changes in Work Health and Safety (WHS) Laws. She argues that having clear definitions, accountabilities, and a simple strategy to integrate psychosocial risk across functions and operations are key to success in decreasing the likelihood of psychosocial risk at work.  The article lays out the issue, provides clarity in defining words (like wellbeing, mental health, psychosocial risk, and psychological safety), and provides a framework to create an organisational blueprint to implement strategies to satisfy new legal obligations. Read it here.

August 2023

AI, or Artificial Intelligence, is receiving considerable attention of late. This month’s ESF Knowledge Digest will summarise an article that provides an overview of the state of the AI in relation to digitally enhanced mental health care.  The article highlights how AI has the potential to make a positive impact in mental health care, yet it is still in its infancy and models and methodologies need to be thoroughly assessed for risk of bias, and other ethical concerns. Read it here.

July 2023

This Digest takes stock of the thousands of research studies to review the efficacy of mobile mental health interventions. Findings failed to find convincing evidence of efficacy of apps, but there were many limitations in the data quality and ability to compare for meta-analysis.  The authors conclude that scaled at a population level, even small effects from MH apps may meaningfully impact public health. Read it here.

June 2023

This ESF Knowledge Digest focuses on a 2022 study from Canada that selected and analysed ten articles to understand what characteristics of peer support (both formal and informal interactions) facilitates post-traumatic growth (post-traumatic growth) in first responders. As a meta-analysis, it gives a good overview of why peer support might promote post-traumatic growth among emergency responders.  It highlights the significance of encouraging discussion, modelling positive coping behaviours, and the value of humour among other factors. The study also looks at mediating factors (eg. Personality) and contexts where peer support is limited. Read it here.

May 2023

The May edition of ESF’s Knowledge Digest covers evidence about new ways of treating and managing depression, anxiety, and PTSD.  The first part summarises an article about the new science of ‘mood and food’ which provides evidence about the impact of diet on mental health.  The second part shares information from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) about the Feb 2023 reclassification of two drugs from the status of poison to medicine – psylocibin and MDMA to treat drag resistant depression, anxiety and PTSD. Read it here.

April 2023

We know that ESWs are at increased risk of poor mental health and that their family and friends can give care that plays an import role in reducing the impact of highly stressful work.  We also know carers in general face increased mental and physical health risks.  To date, according to the authors, there has been no research on the impact of caring for someone in the emergency services. This is what this quantitative study seeks to establish. Read it here.

March 2023

This is a meta-analysis of the relationship between seven distinct leadership styles and their incremental impact on the mental health of those they influence.  Specifically the study uses data from 53 studies to examine six research hypotheses about seven leadership styles. Read it here.

February 2023

This is a retrospective study of coronial data to understand suicide among employed Australian ESWs. It explores the questions of whether the rates of suicide are higher in our sector and if the rates changed over a 16-year period? In short, the answer is no the rates haven’t changed over time, and when the rates are adjusted for gender and other demographic data, there is no difference in suicide rates between our sector and other occupations. The one exception to this counterintuitive finding is among ambulance personnel. Read it here.

November 2022

This month’s digest shares an article by the president of Dr Bill Howatt who is the Ottawa based president of HR Consulting.  It highlights the importance of keeping barriers at the front of mind when developing programs, which necessitates checking in with ‘end users’  throughout the program cycle.  It is a good reminder of the importance of working with evidence – including first-hand experience – in program planning and to measure changes in awareness and behaviours and not just capture program satisfaction. Read it here.

October 2022

This digest summarises a meta-review of international studies on mental health and wellbeing of spouses, partners, and children of emergency responders. It examines two questions. 1) What has been studied in relation to MH and W outcomes and experiences in ER families and 2) What is the MH and W prevalence, and the risk and protective factors for ER Families? in relation to five themes. Read it here.

September 2022

This digest summarises a webinar by Dr Monique Gignac from the University of Toronto. Monique talks about the research she and a team did on the decision making processes of older worker disclosures and the proactive ways employers can support older workers to stay employed. This research confirms several findings in ESF’s studies on the effects of stigma in relation to ageing and retirement but it provides greater insight into why older workers are often cagey about talking about their retirement plans.  These insights rest on the problem of ageism (and I would add competitiveness) in the workplace, where not speaking up preserves reputation and protects vulnerabilities. Read it here.

August 2022

This digest contains a summary of the five high-level themes from the 22nd World Congress on Work, Health and Safety.  It’s always interesting to hear what is happening in work health and safety from across national boundaries, disciplines and institutional roles. Read it here.

July 2022

Mindarma is an e-learning program developed by Black Dog and academics at Uni NSW.  Formerly known as RAW MindCoach, it is a highly regarded self-paced e-learning program to build resilience in workplaces.  When you consider the thoroughness of research and evaluation behind it’s development, its reputation makes sense. Read it here.

June 2022

This digest summarises a project led by Dr Amanda Taylor that looked at mental health among young Australian volunteers. Running from June 2020-July 2021, the digest gives an overview of how and why the research was done, what it found, and the sizeable number of resources that it been generated from it.  This digest will be of special interest to volunteer agencies but the topic of what are the issues and how to better support younger workers is of relevance to all agencies and organisations. Read it here.

May 2022

The digest outlines the findings of a literature review by Phoenix that will inform the development of a research agenda at the Centre of Excellence in Emergency Worker Mental Health (CoE). At the heart is the question of whether standard guideline-recommended interventions for high PTSD prevalent populations are appropriate and effective for ESWs given their situation is often different.  For example, unlike military veterans and trauma-exposed adults, ESW’s tend to have continued exposure to traumatic events and organizational stress and so would need tailored and specialized treatment approaches. Read it here.

April 2022

This digest summarises information about a retreat-style program run in Canada called the First Responder Resiliency Program. This program takes small groups of first responders into the wilderness for three nights to do intensive work to better understand the mechanisms and effects of single incident or cumulative operational stress and how to manage it’s impact and to support peers. The evaluation results are strong for this program which is not surprising given that it combines so many things we know are good for wellbeing: physical exercise, social connection and connection with nature, storytelling, and practical advice for dealing with memories of difficult events and other triggers of accumulative stress. Read it here.

March 2022

This digest provides a summary of a metareview of this new field of lifestyle psychiatry. Specifically it captures general findings about the relationship between the prevention and treatment of mental disorder and exercise, smoking, diet and sleep and recommendations based on the findings. For our sector, the evidence in this article justifies the provision of lifestyle interventions within the preventative and reactive space of mental health services. Read it here.

February 2022

This digest summarises an educational resource written by Professor Sharon Parker (Uni WA) that sets out the evidence-base and theoretical underpinning of work design. It also provides an overview of the Thrive in Health model, which her research has informed. This digest has many links to other resources, including videos of Sharon explaining topics to do with work design. Read it here.

January 2022

This knowledge digest summarises a study by a group of NSW academics that examines the health of the informal caregivers of emergency service workers, compared to the general Australian population.  It also compares the health status of informal caregivers to the ESWs.  The study found that health of informal caregivers of ESWs was found to be compromised compared to general Australian population data. Read it here.

November 2021

This knowledge digest summarises the quantitative results of the first survey from ‘After the Fires’, a research project that is investigating the impacts of the 2019–2020 bushfires on emergency services personnel. Led by Professor David Lawrence from the University of Western Australia, the study has surveyed over 4,000 personnel across fire and rescue, rural fire and state emergency service (SES) agencies across Australia, creating a baseline measure of mental health and wellbeing of first responders after Black Summer. These findings are a sobering read and, in light of volunteers making up 78% of response personnel, a reminder of the critical importance of supporting our volunteers. Read it here.

October 2021

This digest focuses on a scoping review of moral injury among firefighters, paramedics and police officers.  Moral injury is an emergent field of study that is understood as a psychological risk factor that arises from participating in, or observing an event or situation that challenges of conflicts with personal values. Read it here.

September 2021

This digest provides an overview of the Skills for Life Adjustment and Resilience (SOLAR) program which has been piloted by Phoenix Australia in different forms. SOLAR is a five- session, psychosocial, skills-based program that aims to intervene early to promote recovery after disaster and prevent long-term psychological conditions from developing. Read it here.

August 2021

This digest summarises a scoping review, published in 2021, about current best practices for supporting first responder well-being throughout the first responder career and into retirement.  The first half of the article focuses on the evidence base of mental health risk and prevalence among first responders but I don’t summarise this section. Read it here.

July 2021

This digest summarises the third of three reports about a study that explored the challenges career firefighters’ face in relation to retirement. Led by Dr Darja Kragt, the report gives an overview of the first report (a literature review on retirement) and the second (about a mixed methods study into firefighters’ retirement ideas and experiences) and also provides recommendations for addressing retirement issues. The study was funded from South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service (SA MFS) and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) in Western Australia. Read it here.

June 2021

This digest summarises the latest and final report from Beyond Blue about the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Study of Police and Emergency Services (2016-2020). This report (Nov 2020) gives an overview of the three phases of Beyond Blue’s research examining mental health and wellbeing in Australia’s police and emergency services sector. Read it here.

May 2021

This digest unpacks recommendation 19.3 of the Mental Health Royal Commission (2021) which states the need to, “Develop an intensive 14-day support program for adults who are experiencing psychological distress, modelled on Scotland’s Distress Brief Intervention Program.” So what is Scotland’s ‘Distress Brief Intervention Program’? What makes it so good that the Royal Commission recommended copying it here in Victoria? This month’s edition of the Knowledge Digest answers these questions. Read it here.

April 2021

This digest summarises a recent meta-analysis of pre-incident training programs that are typically offered to build resilience in first responders prior to exposure to critical incidents (pre-employment screening programs, psychoeducation, operational training, line manager training and interventions aimed at improving resilience, wellbeing, or stress management).

The article also provides recommendations for what to offer and what to avoid in programs and services for first responders.  This topic resonates with a big question asked by Anthony Tregenza at the meeting yesterday, and the findings are of importance given the a surge in the number of pre-incident training programs aimed at first responders.

Read it here.

March 2021

This digest summarises the Victorian Mental Health Royal Commission’s final report.  This five-volume report has 65 recommendations that point to the finding that our mental health system operates in crisis mode, has failed to live up to expectations, and must be rebuilt from the ground up.  This would not surprise you, and VicPol members testified about how the broken system impacts them, which I have captured alongside the recommendations specifically targeted to our sector. Read it here.

January 2021

This digest summarises a recent (August 2020) KPMG report on leadership and workplace mental health, commissioned by WorkSafe’s WorkWell and Psychological Health Teams. The report is called ‘WorkWell Leadership Research: Supporting leaders to create psychologically safe workplaces’ and has an Executive Summary and a Final Report.  The research relied on 2 global literature reviews; 2 sets of interviews with leaders from 30 different Victorian organisations; and a state-wide survey to leaders of Victorian public, private and not-for-profit organisations. Its objectives were to:

  • Identify the most effective approach to engaging leaders to maximise opportunities for behaviour change
  • Identify the key leader capacities and mindsets required to both address the impact of work-related factors on mental health and safety, and to create workplace cultures that promote psychological health, safety and wellbeing.

Read it here.

November 2020

This ESF Knowledge Digest condenses the mental health relevant points in the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Lessons to be learned in relation to the Australian bushfire season 2019-20. It’s pretty dry reading but also important to know because this inquiry is influencing change in the sector landscape, particularly around the $76 million package for Better Access Bushfire Recovery Telehealth initiative which was announced on 12 January 2020. Read it here.

October 2020

This digest summarises an article about a leadership development program called ‘Beyond Command and Control: Leadership in Crisis’.  It ran from 2010 by the Australian Emergency Management Institute (AEMI) and reached approximately 200 senior and emerging leaders.  Though not a mental health program per se, the lessons learned have implications for our pilot program.  I also thought it worth sharing because of the honesty and depth of the authors’ reflections on what is needed to support responsive, enabling and responsible leadership. Read it here.

September 2020

This Digest gives and overview of MIND Blue Light, a wellbeing and mental health program that ran across the UK for emergency responders (ERs).  It is interesting for its longevity (2015-2019), its nation-wide reach and diversity of activities.  I have peppered this digest with links, to aid you in accessing information about any activity that sparks your interest. Read it here.

August 2020

This Digest summarises literature on:

  • Understanding responses to COVID as grief (Kirsten Weir)
  • Styles of coping given your ‘surge capacity’ (Tara Haelle)
  • How life in the time of COVID impacts mental health (David Forbes)

Read it here.

July 2020

This Digest summarises the key findings and recommendations of a major new study from the UK on emergency responder (their preferred term) mental health and wellbeing.  It has strong overlaps with findings from ‘Answering the Call’ (Beyond Blue 2018) and ESF are currently planning for or progressing many of the recommendations proposed in this UK-based research. Read it here.

June 2020

This Digest summarises an article that identifies nine barriers to the mental health of frontline (Australian paramedic) workers from three angles: the views of managers; workplaces; and the employee.  It is of critical relevance to the pilot we will be progressing together through the Learning Network. Read it here.

June 2020

This Digest summarises information from select resources about:

  • vicarious trauma / compassion fatigue
  • trauma-informed design

Read it here.

May 2020

This Digest shares a summary of issue-specific information and advice for managing mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19 in relation to

  • Zoom Fatigue
  • Coping with uncertainty
  • Emotional fatigue
  • Working from home
  • Taking care of yourself
  • Life after COVID-19

Read it here.

May 2020

This digest shares a summary of role-specific information and advice for managing mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19 in relation to being a:

  • frontline worker
  • parent of young children
  • people leader

Read it here.

April 2020

There is an abundance of resources that provide guidance, advice and tools to help manage mental health at this time of COVID-19. This digest:

  • Summarises what the experts are saying to stay safe and sane
  • Provides and overview of websites with COVID-19 related resources

Read it here.

February 2020

This Digest summarises the more interesting findings from my search of leadership best practice. Namely, about:

  • The ‘Leader-Leader model’ – a highly innovative approach to decentering leadership power – as developed and enacted by a Captain on a nuclear submarine during war
  • A four-night retreat that is a resilience program for first responders – from Canada
  • An academic review article on key tasks for best-practice leadership for mental health
  • Summaries of some evidence about the effectiveness (or rather, lack of) of mental health training

Read it here.