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20th September 2023

Study finds few supports available for families of first responders

MESHA Karen boy

Emergency first responders (EFRs) are often first on the scene of tragic and dangerous situations. EFRs include police, ambulance / paramedics, firefighters and rescue personnel.

Some EFRs are impacted by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In Australia, rates of PTSD are significantly higher in both current-serving EFRs (10%) and former-serving EFRs (25%) than they are in the general Australian community (7.3%).

An EFR’s PTSD can also impact their family members.

MESHA PhD researcher and Associate Director Karen May (pictured) has conducted a systematic review of the international literature on the experiences of EFR family members living with PTSD, published in the JBI Institute’s Evidence Synthesis Journal.

This review found only five eligible studies, and cites that there is “little development of tailored support” for the families of EFRs.

The review, titled ‘How a systematic review of the experiences of emergency first responder family members living with post-traumatic stress disorder can inform new models of care’, also includes an editorial and video (below).

First responder thumbnail

Family members of EFRs have largely been excluded from models of care for EFRs experiencing PTSD.

This had been the case in military populations until recently, but policy and practice have gradually changed, and the duty of care now extends beyond the members to include family.

Findings from the review revealed the need for a set of recommendations to policy and research, for a new model of care. The findings provide a deeper understanding of the experiences and perceptions of family members of EFRs with PTSD.

It also provides an insight into the needs of family members, not just as carers but also as care-seekers, needing their own mental health support due to vicarious or secondary trauma, or both.

These findings can be used to inform EFR organisations and other providers of support for EFRs and their family members to ensure they receive care.

The psychosocial impacts of PTSD and how it affects relationships are highlighted through the families’ perspectives, illuminating the broad-reaching effects of trauma on the families.

You can read the full publication here.

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