Ben Watson, Cameron Watts and Kate Lord – all Fortem Australia Ambassadors – spoke at Fortem’s summit, Beyond Duty – what is the bigger picture in first responder wellbeing? about their lived experiences with first responder mental health.
Kate Lord is a personal trainer and married to a first responder who has experienced PTSD.
Ben Watson is a Volunteer Group Captain with the NSW Rural Fire Service.
Cameron Watts is a former Australian Federal Police Officer.
Here, we share some of their thoughts on the needs of families and first responders.
The impact on first responder families
There remains a distance between family life and the work life for first responders; this must change.
“We need to narrow the gap between home and workplaces,” Kate says. “First responders are brilliant at putting up a façade at work, it is at home where families recognise the issues that are happening.”
Cameron agrees, adding that this could have helped his family to understand what was happening and what to do. “In hindsight, I recognise that bridging the gap between work and home for my wife and family would be a massive step forward,” he says.
“My wife describes it as having seven years of walking on egg shells: not knowing what to say or how to say it. Anything that can help support the families of first responders who are dealing with distress can only be a good thing.”
First responders putting themselves first
The conversation around first responders is so often around how much they do to help others. However, Kate believes we need to look at this differently.
“The language needs to change from you being there to serve your community,” she says, “to also include that, first and foremost, you have to serve yourself. You need to be healthy, mentally strong and physically fit.”
Ben believes that remembering your ‘why’ – the reason you became a first responder in the first place – can help you to look after yourself.
“Your why makes you more deliberate about how you go about your day and how well you take care of your fitness and things like that,” he says.
An understanding of the signs of mental health challenges
First responders and their families need to know what the signs of distress and mental health challenges look like.
“I wish I’d known some trigger points for myself to know when things were going where they shouldn’t go,” reflects Cameron.
“Your family notices if you’re not doing the things you like to do, whether your mood is changing, whether you’re drinking – you all need to know what things to look out for. If those things are coming up you have to ask yourself some questions and seek some guidance.”
There’s much more to this conversation, click play to watch…
More about our speakers:
Ben Watson – NSW Rural Fire Service volunteer, Group Captain with The Hills District, Sydney.
Ben Watson has a 25-year career as a volunteer firefighter, and during the Black Summer Bushfires led hundreds of men and women on the most hazardous fire grounds in NSW.
Ben has also been an Army Officer for 20 years and lead Australian soldiers into combat on five operational tours.
Kate Lord – Owner and Personal Trainer, ABC Fitness.
Kate Lord’s lived experience as the wife of a first responder, inspires a passionate career of advocacy.
She spent years searching for the help and support her husband and family needed to get strong and stay together.
She has a Bachelor of Primary Education and is a Physical Education Specialist.
Kate believes her 10 years as a teacher played a huge part in being able to cope with her husband’s PTSD and get her through the hardest of times.
From her base on the Gold Coast, Kate takes her passion for mind and body health to the wider community through ABC Fitness.
Cameron Watts – Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Capital Integrity, former Australian Federal Police officer.
Cameron Watts has played a leading role in the AFP’s fight against foreign bribery and corruption and during his policing career, and presented at major global forums, including the OECD and APEC.
As the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Capital Integrity, Cameron now helps clients entrench social and governance best practice at the centre of their operations, ensuring the greatest possible protection from risks related to bribery and corruption.
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.