A world-first study shows that online resilience training can make a significant impact to the mental health and wellbeing of emergency workers.

Floods and cyclones in Queensland.

Fires in Tasmania, Western Australia, New South Wales.

Disasters, it seems, are never far away in Australia, and the psychological impacts on the emergency responders who toil on the frontlines can be devastating.

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University of New South Wales’ (UNSW) Workplace Mental Health Research Team, the Black Dog Institute and Fire and Rescue NSW have worked together to publish a study examining whether an online mindfulness-based program could effectively enhance resilience among first responders to high-risk situations – namely police, fire and ambulance workers.

The findings showed that the training helps to significantly increase psychological resilience and adaptive levels, and boost optimism and healthy coping strategies in emergency workers.

The study also promotes the importance of organisations adopting this type of training to improve and maintain optimum mental health in the workplace.

‘First responders face unique challenges, and it is important they are provided with the very best training and support,’ Sadhbh Joyce, Senior Psychologist and PhD Candidate at UNSW’s Workplace Mental Health Research Team, said.

‘Bolstering resilience is important for all workers; however, it is particularly important for emergency services workers with their challenging roles putting them at greater risk of conditions, including depression and PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder].’

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The team behind the research believes it will enable emergency workers to be better-equipped and mentally prepared when facing the many challenges of their demanding roles.

The study involved a cluster of randomised controlled trials conducted across 24 primary fire and rescue stations in New South Wales. Questionnaires were administered immediately after the online training program, and at a six-month follow-up, showing that participants had an average 1.3 increase in their resilience score.

The research team is confident the study will also help to encourage organisations to integrate similar evidence-based training and a rollout across other states, with the aim to overcome some of the barriers organisations face and make it simpler to equip emergency workers with the skills they need.


Morgan Liotta

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