The Andrews Labor Government is increasing its efforts to better support Victoria’s hardworking paramedics, after new data revealed elevated rates of suicide.
Figures from the Coroners Prevention Unit show the rate of suicide among paramedics is about four times higher than the average for all other Victorian jobs, and almost three times higher than other emergency service workers. According to the Coroners Court, eight paramedics suicided between 2008 and 2014.
In its advice, the Coroner states that the relevance of workplace specific factors is as yet unknown, however paramedics are often first to respond to dangerous and traumatic situations, rescuing people from horrific transport accidents or dealing with people affected by drugs and alcohol.
The Victorian Government, Ambulance Victoria and Ambulance Employees of Australia Victoria have jointly responded to this information from the Coroners Prevention Unit, and are working closely together to develop new strategies to increase support for paramedics and their mental health and wellbeing.
In the 2015-16 Victorian Budget, the Labor Government provided $1.3 million to double the number of Peer Support Coordinators and fund an additional chaplain. The Ambulance Victoria Peer Support Program provides immediate and ongoing support to help paramedics recover from traumatic cases.
Ambulance Victoria is also working with beyondblue on its ‘First Responders Project’ which is aimed at decreasing suicide among emergency services personnel, and will partner with key mental health experts to better understand how the job impacts on mental health and how to best help paramedics to stay mentally healthy.
Ambulance Victoria will also develop and implement a workforce mental health strategy, provide suicide prevention training for all paramedics and new graduates, and improve psychological screening of new recruits.
The Ambulance Performance and Policy Consultative Committee is working with paramedics on recommendations to improve ambulance response times, reduce ramping and better manage paramedic workload and fatigue.
A key focus of the work is around paramedic mental health and wellbeing, and increasing efforts raise to awareness and improve prevention, early intervention and post incident supports.
The Committee’s Final Report will be handed down in December.
Quotes attributable to Minister for Ambulance Services Jill Hennessy
“Every day, paramedics confront incredibly stressful situations, life-threatening medical emergencies and major trauma. Understandably, this can take a toll on their mental health and wellbeing.”
“I am incredibly concerned by this data and am absolutely committed to ensuring our paramedics get the support they need. Paramedics save our lives; we need to do everything we can to save theirs.”
Quotes attributable to Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley
“Suicide is preventable, but sadly, we know too many people don’t seek help. I want to encourage all paramedics to please take care of themselves and never hesitate to speak up and ask for help.”
“Work is underway on our 10-year mental health strategy to improve support for Victorians living with mental illness which is aimed at early intervention and strengthening social support.”