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COVID-19 pressures on first responders acknowledged – support needed now and in the future.

Community awareness around the mental health impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis on the first responder community is growing.

The release of new research from Charles Sturt University (CSU) has given first responders a voice and given the communities they serve an opportunity to walk in their shoes.


Radio interview with ABC Illawarra featuring John Bale, Fortem Australia and Josh Taylor, Australian Paramedics Association


Over 1,500 first responders took part in the CSU online survey, including police and paramedics from across Australia.

The results show alarming levels of depression, anxiety and burnout as a result of pressures related to the pandemic, with depression and anxiety levels many times higher than expected in the general population.

The proportion of respondents with severe depression and anxiety was 10 and 4 times higher (respectively) than the general population.

The level of workplace burnout from respondents was very high with over half showing high levels of emotional exhaustion and burnout – 40% of respondents said they are considering quitting their current job.


Prime 7 News, speaking with James Maskey, Fortem Australia and Clare Sutton, CSU…


The major drivers identified behind this poor mental health were:

  1. Increased workload – 30% said it was higher than what is fair and reasonable.
  2. A rapidly changing work environment.
  3. Insufficient practical support and operational guidance.
  4. Lack of management connection with the ‘coal-face’
  5. Ambiguous, conflicting, and redundant communication.
  6. Fears around contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to loved ones.

The report made 8 recommendations; Fortem Australia is already having an impact in two of the key areas identified and has the ability to scale up with further funding and support.

“First responders are calling for a range of mental health support services that are made available not just within the workplace but outside work, within their social networks – supports that harness the power of community connection,” says John Bale, Managing Director, Fortem Australia.

“The day-to-day opportunities Fortem provides first responder families to connect socially are a great example and underpin our deeper clinical supports.

“Since the Black Summer Bushfires close to 6,000 people have felt the benefit of our locally based wellbeing activities and over 500 psychology sessions have been conducted.

“93% of participants say they felt the benefit of our approach; the CSU study is further proof that engaging those workplace social networks is critical in first responder mental health and fitness.”

Fortem Australia thanks Charles Sturt University for their work in this space and looks forward to working with them in the future. 

The full CSU report on the ‘Mental health, wellbeing and work impacts of COVID-10 on first responders’ can be accessed HERE.

Fortem Australia supports the mental health and wellbeing of first responders and their family members – the people who protect and care for our community.

We offer free wellbeing activities, clinical support and transition and employment programs.

Funded by the Commonwealth until 31 December 2021, our supports have grown in response to the Black Summer Bushfires of 2019/20.

Fortem activities, events and community engagements are designed to support the mental fitness of our first responder families. Read more about Our Approach.
Find out Who We Support and share this story to help us reach them.