Emergency service workers with mental health problems ‘bullied’

Date: Jun 29, 2017

A woman who developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the harrowing events she experienced as a police officer said unsympathetic colleagues exacerbated her battle with mental health problems.

Rebecca – not her real name – told the Newcastle Herald that she served on the force for nearly two decades. Over that time, she had a number of traumatic experiences, including witnessing murders, car crashes, dead children and assaults.

The former Newcastle and Macquarie Lake officer also suffered the loss of two colleagues who committed suicide, as well as the associated feelings of helplessness in not being able to save them.

PTSD and workplace bullying

According to Rebecca, much of her time, emotional strength and energy have been spent tackling the bullying she experienced from other officers after she disclosed her problems with PTSD.

She and other emergency service workers who struggle with mental health conditions showed support for a new parliamentary inquiry into bullying within the industry.

"It's too late for me. You only have so much fight in you. It's not too late for the future [people] … we all need a voice," Rebecca stated.

PTSD and other severe mental health conditions can be considered total and permanent disabilities (TPDs) if the disorder is diagnosed as serious enough that the individual cannot return to the workplace.

Sane Australia lists various symptoms that people with PTSD suffer that could preclude them from employment, such as flashbacks of the traumatic event, anxiety, jumpiness and feelings of emotional numbness.

Emergency services workers are particularly prone to PTSD due to regularly encountering distressing scenes in the course of their jobs.

The stress of making a claim

Former police officer and paramedic Cindy Modderman said workers' compensation systems add further stress to emotionally fragile colleagues.

In many cases, people who take time off work for PTSD and other mental health problems are put under surveillance to ensure they're not making a fraudulent claim for benefits.

"There are a lot of people who are bullied that can still go to work, so they are frightened that if they start talking their job is gone, which is another form of bullying in itself," said Ms Modderman.

The parliamentary inquiry aims to explore a range of issues relating to bullying in NSW's emergency services, as well as complaints of harassment and discrimination.

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