Mental Health Care in Emergency and Incident Management

by | 1 Aug 2023

Written by Scott Cresswell, Emergency Management Consultant at Bounce Readiness.

Over the past decade, our understanding of mental health has evolved significantly. Today, we acknowledge mental health and stress-related issues as integral to our overall well being. In fact, it’s estimated that one in five Australians between the ages of 16 and 65 will experience a mental disorder in any given year. 

Encouragingly, individuals and organisations alike are not only acknowledging the prevalence of mental health issues, but also actively advocating for their normalisation and treatment, and progressively dismantling the traditional stigmas associated with mental illness.

As an Emergency Management Consultant at Bounce Readiness, my professional journey, intertwined with my responsibilities as a firefighter, has provided me with firsthand experience of the heightened critical incident stress that arises in response to emergencies. Stress, though perceived negatively, is a natural physiological response to high-intensity situations. It’s the body’s natural mechanism for dealing with extraordinary, overwhelming events.

Stress can exhibit itself in various ways including disrupted sleep patterns or restlessness, muscular tension, heightened emotional reactions, altered eating habits, withdrawal from regular activities, nightmares, and difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly. 

While these behaviours might seem abnormal individually, they are quite predictable responses to high-stress situations. It’s crucial to understand that critical incident stress reactions might occur immediately post-event, or they may take weeks to manifest in affected staff.

The roles of leadership

Leadership teams play a pivotal role in preparing their teams for critical incidents. Steps that can be taken include:

  • Developing comprehensive Critical Incident Stress programs
  • Engaging suitably trained personnel and/or organisations for Employee Assistance Programs
  • Preparing thorough debrief programs, which include necessary tools and trained personnel
  • Ensuring staff are aware of these programs and services via induction training
  • Incorporating resilience-building programs
  • Promoting a positive and open workplace culture

How to minimise stress

Post-incident, organisations can aid their teams’ recovery and minimise the effects of critical incident stress by:

  • Limiting exposure to stressors as much as possible
  • Providing frequent rest breaks during the critical incident
  • Undertaking a debrief within 72 hours of the event, which is crucial to normalising physiological responses among affected staff
  • Ensuring staff have access to assistance programs, with support from trained personnel
  • Expecting a range of stress reactions and providing support accordingly, understanding that everyone’s experience and needs may differ
  • Showcasing empathy and providing support for all staff. Staff can also access support through their GP, the Employee Assistance Program, and various free services such as The Black Dog Institute.

At Bounce Readiness, we stand committed to helping your organisation prepare for, and respond to, emergencies and critical incidents. 

We understand that maintaining the mental wellbeing of your team is as important as any other aspect of your business operations. If you’d like to learn more about our programs and how we can support your team, please feel free to reach out. Your mental health, like your physical health, is worth protecting.

School Resilience Survey

This specific survey focuses on lessons learnt from incidents over the last 12 months, and takes approximately 10 minutes to complete.