A Clinician’s Summary of the Expert Guidelines on the Diagnosis and
Treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in Emergency Service Workers
Published February 2018
Endorsed by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists
A/Prof. Samuel Harvey, Prof. Richard Bryant and Prof. David Forbes
In Australia, there are over 80,000 full time emergency workers who perform a vital role in protecting and providing emergency assistance to other citizens. They may be police officers, fire fighters or ambulance personnel, or belong to a volunteer organisation such as the State Emergency Service (SES) or Rural Fire Service. There is increasing awareness that there may be mental health consequences of the cumulative trauma exposure and organisational stress experienced by many emergency service workers. Around one in 10 emergency service workers have symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with similar high rates of depression and generalised anxiety symptoms. These mental health problems can cause many emergency service workers to lose their work, their family and their wellbeing. However, this doesn’t need to be the case. There is now a range of effective treatments for PTSD and with early diagnosis and good quality care, many emergency service workers can recover. While there is cause for optimism, it also needs to be acknowledged that diagnosing and treating mental health problems amongst emergency service workers can be complicated. The Black Dog Institute has recently published evidence-based guidelines on how PTSD should be diagnosed and treated amongst emergency service workers. These guidelines, which were peer reviewed and approved by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, are intended to sit alongside and complement the broader NHMRC Australian Guidelines for the Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
This summary is designed to provide clinicians with a brief overview of these expert guidelines to help with their day-to-day management of emergency service workers.