Knowledge Digest

The Emergency Services Foundation Knowledge Digest summarises an eclectic variety of information and research on the theme of mental health and wellbeing of general interest to the sector. It is issued at the end of each month, except for December, to build the evidence-base for improving mental health and wellbeing in Victoria’s emergency services.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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)

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.

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.

June 2020

This Digest summarises information from select resources about:

  • vicarious trauma / compassion fatigue
  • trauma-informed design

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

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

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

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 decentring 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

December 2019

This Digest summarises trends and the latest research ideas about leadership for mental health.