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Beyond Duty – the role of families in first responder suicide prevention.

All ‘Beyond Duty’ artworks by Phillip Marsden and Ken Chung, our digital scribes from KPMG.

First responders are more than twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts than the general population. 

This makes suicide a very real risk that the first responder community needs to openly discuss and act upon. 

According to Dr Jacqueline Drew, from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Griffith Criminology Institute at Griffith University, everyone in the first responder community has a role to play in suicide prevention.

“The way forward when we’re thinking about better supporting the mental health of our first responders, and working towards suicide prevention solutions, really does involve members of our community at its core,” she says.

“First responders, their colleagues and supervisors, psychologists, and families – each and every one of us has a role to play.” 

The family’s role in suicide prevention was the topic of a panel discussion at the Fortem mental health summit, Beyond Duty – what is the bigger picture in first responder wellbeing? 

Families play a vital role in suicide prevention 

The support of the people we love is a protective factor against suicide. 

This support can include listening to the first responder, encouraging them to seek professional help, learning more about mental health so that we know how to respond, and looking out for behaviour changes that may indicate a mental health challenge. 

Tara Lal, Senior Firefighter with Fire & Rescue NSW and PhD Candidate at the University of New England, says that the families of first responders may also need to have some conversations that many find tough. 

“Leaning in to the conversation around suicide, in a safe way, gives people permission to speak up and to talk about things that are incredibly difficult and distressing,” she says. 

It’s important to know that speaking about suicide – including asking someone in your life whether they have thought about it – does not increase their risk of acting on suicidal behaviours. Instead, it can open up their ability to seek help. 

“Never underestimate the power of one conversation,” adds Tara. 

For safe and practical tips on what to say to someone you’re concerned about, see Fortem’s resource, How (and why) to talk about suicide

We need to recognise the role of families 

Within the first responder community, we must continue to highlight the importance of families. 

It is often within the family environment that changes in behaviour are first noticed, important conversations can take place, and help-seeking is encouraged. 

Dr Drew says families need more information about how to recognise the signs and what to do next. 

“We need to enhance the role of families in identifying issues and supporting their loved ones,” she says, “because families say they were aware of some issues, but they weren’t aware that these were precursors to suicidal death. 

“We need to connect families with agencies, to seek support for themselves and support for their loved one. They’re likely to be the ones seeing this behaviour change.” 

There’s much more to this conversation, click play to watch…

More about our speakers:

Shayne Connell – CEO of LivingWorks Australia. 

Shayne Connell is the CEO of LivingWorks Australia – the leading developers of suicide prevention and intervention training in Australia.  

LivingWorks has been delivering SafeTALK and ASIST workshops for almost 20 years and is currently partnering with Fortem to deliver training to the first responder community.  

With a background in psychology and an MBA, Shayne leads a team of 800 registered LivingWorks trainers across the country, developing networks of safety through suicide first aid training – he also brings the lived experience of his family to this conversation.

Dr Jacqueline Drew – School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University. 

Dr Jacqueline Drew has over 20 years experience in law enforcement, as a practitioner and researcher. She is a psychologist, holding a PhD in organisational psychology and is a Fellow of the Institute of Managers and Leaders.  

Jacqueline works across Australia with state police organisations and internationally with law enforcement in the United States focusing on improving the psychological health and wellbeing of police. 

The findings of her current research will add weight to the message. 

Tara Lal – Senior Firefighter, Fire & Rescue NSW; PhD candidate, University of New England. 

Tara Lal is a Senior Firefighter with Fire & Rescue NSW and PhD candidate at the University of New England. 

Tara dedicates her time to changing the public narrative around suicide and mental illness, through the integration of research and storytelling.  

Her passion evolved partly from her own experiences of growing up in a family deeply impacted by suicide and mental ill health, and partly from witnessing the devastating impact of mental illness on her colleagues at Fire and Rescue NSW.

Further recordings from ‘Beyond Duty’ will be published to the Fortem Australia website over the coming weeks. The community is invited to share those recourses widely, be agents for change themselves and keep the conversation and connection going.

Fortem activities, events and community engagements are designed to support the mental fitness of our first responder families. Read more about Our Approach.
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