Post Traumatic Stress Research

‘To assess the effect of exposure to suicide on firefighters’

University of New England, NSW
Awarded 2018
Co-funded by Rotary Clubs of New South Wales

“Firefighters not only have greater exposure to suicide than the general public but also that with cumulative exposure there is greater risk of mental illness and suicidal behavior”

Researcher Profile

Tara Lal is a firefighter and peer supporter with Fire and Rescue NSW. She has an honours degree in Physiology as well as a Bachelor of Applied science in Physiotherapy. Tara has managed the psychological well-being program at Fire and Rescue and has collaborated on research projects aimed at building resilience in firefighters and promoting conversations around mental health between managers and employees.

Tara is a Mental Health First Aid instructor and has written a book about her own experiences following the loss of her brother to suicide.

Project Summary

In Australia, one police officer, paramedic or firefighter takes their own life every six weeks. It is currently estimated that for every suicide at least 35 people are directly negatively impacted leaving them at greater risk of mental illness and suicide themselves. For this reason, the World Health Organisation has stated that suicide post-vention (the support offered to those impacted by suicide) is an important part of any suicide prevention initiative.

Research has also indicated that there is a correlation between cumulative exposure to suicide and poor psychological and social health.  This is particularly relevant to firefighters who are exposed to suicide not only through loss of colleagues, family members and friends, but also when attending suicide related incidents at work. There is very little research or evidence available on this topic in Australia or worldwide. Consequently, there is no comprehensive program available in Australia to support emergency service workers in the wake of suicide.

Hence, the aim of this project is to investigate and better understand the experience and impact of cumulative exposure to suicide on firefighters in Australia. It is envisaged that the results of this investigation will be used to develop and implement an evidence informed program to support emergency service workers effected by suicide to reduce the impact of trauma on their mental health and facilitate post traumatic growth.

Supervisors: Professor Myfanwy Maple and Dr Warren Bartik.