22 February 2023

'Protect the protectors': New 3000 km charity event supports first-responder mental health

| Claire Fenwicke
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group of first responders

The Heart 2 Heart Walk 2023 aims to raise awareness of first-responder mental health and action change. Photo: ESA Twitter.

CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses mental health issues and suicide.

They’re harrowing statistics: first responders are twice as likely to report suicidal thoughts and three times more likely to have a plan.

Further, those who have been in the job for more than 10 years are six times more likely to experience symptoms of PTSD.

That’s all according to Beyond Blue’s Answering the Call report, and now a new charity event has been established to spark urgent action for those on the frontline.

The Heart 2 Heart Walk is a 3000 km challenge linking Lambert Centre of Australia in the NT to Parliament House, aiming to draw attention to challenges around first-responder mental health and wellbeing.

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It’s also hoped this event, launched by independent Senator David Pocock, will spur action to implement all 14 recommendations from the 2019 Senate Inquiry into first responder suicide, PTSD and premature mortality.

Vocal veterans supporter and independent Senator Jacqui Lambie was also on hand for the launch, which she said was a cause she was backing.

“I think it’s about time we looked out for those who care for us,” she said.

David Pocock

Independent Canberra Senator David Pocock hosts the Heart 2 Heart launch event. Photo: Facebook, Heart 2 Heart Walk 2023.

These recommendations include a national plan on first-responder mental health, a national register of health professionals who specialise in first-responder mental health, and mental health support services for retired first responders.

Former AFP Detective Sergeant Jason Taylor, who is also the Belco Party Yerrabi candidate and has experienced PTSD as a result of his work as a police officer, said he also wanted to see the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 amended to make compensati0n claims for police and emergency service workers “presumptive”.

“[It’s] so that these fine men and women do not have to fight for the help that they deserve,” he said.

“As someone who has been through this process, I can assure you that it is combative and re-traumatising, and I’m considered one of the ‘lucky’ ones as I was able to use one single traumatic event to have my claim approved.

“This is not the case for the majority of sufferers: this is a disgraceful state of affairs, it’s time to protect the protectors.”

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The walk will begin on 1 July and arrive in Canberra on 28 September, with stops and first-responder days planned throughout SA and NSW, including in Lockhart, Wagga Wagga, Junee, Gundagai, Tumut and Wee Jasper.

Heart 2 Heart Foundation chair Vince Pannell APM said this was more than “just a walk”.

“It’s our commitment to fighting for better mental health services for all Australian first responders and their families,” he said.

“We need to ensure these ordinary people, who do extraordinary things protecting, saving, caring for and rescuing the community, day in, day out, receive the support they need.”

If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact:

Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis support line – 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800 or kidshelpline.com.au
MensLine Australia – 1300 789 978 or mensline.org.au.

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