Wearing a uniform or holding a Public Safety responsibility does not automatically mean you are immune to the psychological impact of incidents and confronting situations. Those individuals who sacrifice a great deal to protect us and all that we value do not always get to see the best in human behaviour or mother-nature.
Unearth Technologies Director, Lisa Sisson, found it refreshing to see a number of sessions at the 2016 Australian & New Zealand Disaster & Emergency Management Conference (ANZDMC) were focused on the human Psychosocial impact of a disaster. This included individuals, families and communities, plus the often less discussed, first responders, support and relief workers engaged in incidents or disasters.
Lisa was especially intrigued by one key note speaker, Dr Sarb Johal, an Associate Professor in Disaster Mental Health, Joint Centre for Disaster Research Massey University, New Zealand who provided great insight of going through a disaster and having a job or responsibilities where one cares for others; explaining how it’s a precarious balancing act.
His research identifies rescue and recovery workers engaged in disaster relief are indeed at an increased risk of developing mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The research Dr Johal has been conducting certainly can provide consideration as to how we understand “human recovery and resilience” and how to better support all people and families affected by a confronting incident or disaster.
Human impact presentations delivered directly from first responders and relief workers, plus one on one discussions that Lisa had with first responders attending the conference, highlighted a common theme. There was an expectation that because these individuals wore a uniform or had a Public Safety responsibility that had provided them training, that they should be able to withstand the burden of the situations they face.
Even though there are processes and debriefing in place, which appeared inconsistent between codes, departments and States; the current process, even with its best intentions, appears to be ineffective in identifying early indicators of the impact to some individuals.
What also became evident, was the ability for some first responders to have remained resilient for many years, then have an incident suddenly impact them in a way that caught them by surprise, to find themselves in unfamiliar territory.
Lisa felt it was a true moment for pause, as she has always been passionate about “protecting those who protect the community”, but to hear it first hand by those first responders and relief workers willing to share their experience was sobering.
This is why Lisa is continuing to actively explore ways to improve how we support and protect our first responders and relief groups, and the many others who have to face the confronting reality associated with man-made and natural threats. Exploring smarter and effective ways to identify the early indicators of those individuals who are in need of help, and do it quicker.