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Media release: Action needed to address first responder suicide

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As the police community in New South Wales mourns the passing of another colleague over the weekend, Fortem Australia is calling for greater focus on the suicide rates in the first responder community, and the importance of independent programs.

Tragically this loss is not an isolated incident. Over the last four weeks alone, a New South Wales police officer, and an officer from Victoria both lost their lives to suicide.

We believe that over 25 first responders have taken their own lives in the last 12 months. That is at least one life lost every fortnight, and there could be more.

A National Coronial Information System (NCIS) study in October 2019 revealed that 197 first responders took their own lives between 2001 and 2016. This data was gathered among 105,000 paid employees only, not accounting for current or former volunteers.

When you factor in those volunteers, the number of first responders across the nation exceeds 360,000, and the number who have taken their own lives also grows.

Unlike the veteran community, where both research and preventative programs for suicide have been a critical area of focus for many years; there is a distinct lack of research into suicide among first responders, or programs to reduce these issues.

Fortem Australia’s Managing Director and Co-Founder John Bale says the limited available data shows it is a problem that needs to be addressed urgently.

“While the suicide crisis within the veteran community has been called a ‘national shame’, with Royal Commissions, multi-billion-dollar Government departments, and hundreds of veterans’ charities set up to address it; the crisis within the first responder community is largely going under-reported, and under-addressed,” said Mr. Bale.

“More research is needed into why this number is so high, and how we can lower it and support the brave men and women that protect our communities across Australia.

“Fortem Australia remains committed to providing trauma-informed support to first responders and their families, but the need for more data to better support services like ours is vital.

“Organisations like Fortem are doing what we can to help, but we need a consistent approach and support from all levels of Government to ensure first responders know that industry specific support is available for them.

“On World Suicide Prevention Day, we highlighted that there is simply not enough being done to reduce suicide within our first responder community. This issue needs to be addressed at a national level.

“While it was encouraging to see the Prime Minister acknowledge Australia needs to do more to address the rate of suicide, we know employees and volunteers in the first responder sector report having suicidal thoughts over two times more than adults in the general population and are more than three times more likely to have a suicide plan.

“Our first responders protect and care for our community. The fact that they are taking their lives — let alone at such an alarming rate — highlights that we need to do more. They deserve more from us.”

Media contact: Simon Anderson, M – 0448 601 391 E – media@fortemaustralia.org.au

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