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Post Traumatic Stress

It is estimated that PTSD affects 1.5 million Australians

PTSD is a debilitating and often chronic mental health condition associated with high levels of distress. It is usually triggered by exposure to traumatic situations and can arise from a single event, such as an assault, accident or natural disaster, and from prolonged and repeated trauma, such as ongoing domestic and family violence, war or severe political repression.

PTSD affects many sectors of society: the military, first responders, journalists who report trauma and may also be exposed to threat, people who have lived with domestic and family violence, refugees in indefinite detention, people from indigenous communities dealing with historical and current trauma, prison populations and victims of violent crime.

It is estimated that PTSD affects 1.5 million Australians and a further 3-4 million family members who live with the condition. The scope and scale of the problem is immense in terms of both human suffering — people with PTSD are at increased risk of self-harm and suicide — and the social and economic costs of the poor mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, crime, violence, family disruption and lost productivity which can be associated with it.

While symptoms of PTSD are similar across all sufferers, they can result from many different contexts, which require different approaches to recovery. The topic is far reaching and, if tackled in its entirety, overwhelming. For this reason, our initial focus is on PTSD in the first responder community, where there is an urgent need to address current knowledge gaps. There are a range of challenges and framework issues within first responder organisations which also need to be addressed.


Australia21’s report, When Helping Hurts: PTSD in first responders, contains many recommendations. While all are important, implementation will take time. We have identified the key priorities as:

  1. Within the broader context of growing community understanding that mental illness is not in any sense, a marker of a genetically inferior being but a response to life challenges that we all face, normalising attitudes to post-traumatic stress in first responder organisations and clarifying what happens when people seek help.

  2. Normalising attitudes to post-traumatic stress in first responder organisations and clarifying what happens when people seek help.

  3. Developing WH&S guidelines which outline the preferred or expected limits of exposure during normal operations.

  4. Ensuring, as far as is reasonably possible, that impacted personnel receive, in a timely way, the right treatment for the right illness.

  5. Implementing a case-managed return to work process for affected personnel, without financial penalty.

  6. Supporting impacted personnel in dealing with compensation claims.

  7. Introduction of the major policy changes outlined in Recommendation 30, including the introduction of a Canadian-style presumption in workers’ compensation legislation. Introduction of people management and mental wellbeing training for first responder managers.

  8. Establishment of collaborative arrangements to build on work already done, including in Defence, to share good practice across jurisdictions and to advocate for improved treatment and policy options in the interests of all first responders.

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