As emergency services battle catastrophic bushfires in Queensland and clean up after cyclonic conditions in New South Wales, world-first research in Australia has revealed the mental health burden borne by first responders. It has found high levels of psychological distress among police officers and other emergency personnel, with a quarter of retired first responders reporting experiences of post-traumatic stress disorder.
A modified Boeing 737 passenger aircraft drops 15,000 liters of water on fires near the Queensland city of Mackay.
Across the state, emergency crews have been battling more than 100 bushfires.
Further south, Sydney, Australia's biggest city, was pounded Wednesday by a once in-a-100-year storm. An emergency volunteer died in the huge clean-up operation.
Greg Murphy is from the New South Wales State Emergency Service.
"I can confirm that one of our members, one of the SES family, collapsed and died today while on an SES job," Murphy said. "Our sympathies are with the family and all of their colleagues that are actually feeling the effects of this sad event."
For the first time research in Australia has painted a detailed picture of the psychological health of past and present police officers and other emergency service personnel. The charity Beyond Blue surveyed 21,000 people.
It found that those on the frontline of natural disasters, accidents and crimes have a higher risk of developing mental health conditions, which are associated with traumatic events as well as poor workplace culture.
Steve McDowell is a former paramedic and founded the No More Neglect' help group to advise those suffering from acute stress.
"I developed post-traumatic stress disorder from my workplace, and as a result of my experiences I formed a support group in 2015," McDowell said. "It helps people who are suffering from mental distress who are first responders. A lot of experiences have to do with bullying in the workplace, a lack of support in the workplace and a feeling of isolation."
The survey found that emergency workers in Australia are about twice as likely to suffer severe psychological distress or be diagnosed with a mental illness than the general population.
The research will be used as a framework for the police, as well as the ambulance and fire services, to help workers and volunteers better cope with some of the most challenging and dangerous jobs in Australia.