There are some protections that can be put in place to help first responders who are at risk of mental health challenges.
Protective factors are the things that reduce a person’s likelihood of suicidal behaviours and improve their ability to cope with challenging times and demanding work.
At the top of the list of protective factors is support – and that support can come from many people, including family members, friends, work colleagues and leaders, and mental health professionals. We all have an important role, and we all need to better understand how to support and help the first responders in our lives.
Something is wrong, but what can we do?
“Often, we recognise when there’s something not right with someone in our circle – whether it’s a colleague or a family member – but we don’t know what to do about it,” says Shayne Connell, CEO at LivingWorks Australia.
It’s a change in behaviour that can alert us to someone’s struggles, and it’s tempting to stay quiet or withdraw from them when we don’t know what to say.
“Where a lot of us come unstuck is that we think it’s a mental health clinician’s job, it’s too much for us, and we don’t know what to do. But anyone can have a role in preventing suicide,” Shayne says.
“When we see people around us who are struggling, we need to all have the skills to know what to actually say to somebody.”
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.
Reach in to offer support
Starting conversations about mental health and suicide can feel daunting. However, it’s an important way to support the first responder in your life.
Beyond Blue reports that first responders in Australia are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts than the general Australian population.
Talking about these issues can be helpful in showing our support and encouraging someone we know to seek help. These conversations can also help us to know what they need from us.
It’s important to know that you won’t put someone at risk by asking them about suicide.
It can be difficult for someone who is struggling to reach out for help. Being the one to start these conversations can break that barrier.
Shayne says, “We need to move the onus from help seeking to help offering. If you notice that someone is struggling, reach in.”
Shayne Connell spoke at Fortem’s summit, Beyond Duty – what is the bigger picture in first responder wellbeing? as part of a panel discussion on suicide in the first responder community. LivingWorks and Fortem are partners in delivering suicide first aid training to the first responder community. The training is designed to provide the skills for knowing what to do and say to support the people around us.
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.