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  • New guidelines for traumatised emergency workers

    Author: AAP

National guidelines have been developed to help the 8000 Australian emergency service workers living with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Australian experts have developed the world's first clinical guidelines to tackle the `scourge' of post-traumatic stress disorder in emergency workers.

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Around 10 per cent of police, fire, rescue and ambulance workers are suffering PTSD, although rates are likely to be higher if retirees are taken into account, says the guideline's lead author, Dr Sam Harvey.

The psychiatrist, from the Black Dog Institute and University of NSW, worked with other leading experts to create what they believe is the world's first clinical guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD in the high-risk group.

While the condition can happen to anyone exposed to trauma, managing it in emergency service workers is especially challenging.


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"Emergency workers fill a hugely important role in our society, but unfortunately the nature of their job means they are regularly exposed to different types of trauma from witnessing distressing events to having their own lives in significant danger," said Dr Harvey said before Wednesday's launch.

"The cumulative nature of their trauma exposure, and the different coping mechanisms emergency workers use, mean PTSD often presents in atypical ways and can be difficult to identify and differentiate from other mental illnesses, especially for clinicians who are not specialists in the field.

"These problems can be compounded by the stigma associated with mental illness, meaning some emergency service workers may be reluctant to come forward and ask for help."

The Black Dog Institute's Professor Helen Christensen said at least 8000 Australian emergency service workers are living with PTSD, due to their frequent exposure to potentially traumatic experiences.

"Mental illness is a significant cause of sickness absence in this group, and without appropriate and timely intervention, it can result in long term disability and even suicide," she said.
PTSD Symptoms include mentally re-experiencing trauma, avoidance of triggering situations, low mood, insomnia and irritability.

The guidelines were developed for GPs, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapeutic providers and workers compensation staff, while workers, their families and carers can also benefit from them.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467


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