As part of the study Deanne Armstrong, from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, will follow fire-fighter recruits to gauge their levels of anxiety, depression and well-being.
Ms Armstrong said previous research in this area had primarily focused on negative outcomes for emergency services workers such as post traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) and depression.
“But I want to look at both negative outcomes and positive outcomes of this important work,” she said.
“We know there are elements within the fire-fighter population who are at risk of post traumatic stress disorder as well as depression and anxiety.
“It is estimated that between 10 and 20 per cent of all fire-fighters will suffer PTSD sometime while on the job.”
Ms Armstrong said fire-fighters performed an integral role in Australia and overseas and when tragic circumstances such as the devastation in Japan or the recent floods in Queensland arose, there was renewed interest in those who had chosen to fulfil roles within the emergency services.
She said in addition to fighting fires, fire-fighters were the only emergency services personnel in Queensland trained to operate the jaws of life, and therefore they attended many serious road accidents.
“When we see there are about 4500 permanent professional fire-fighters in Queensland alone and around 30,000 volunteers, it really highlights the numbers of people who may be at risk of mental health problems,” she said.
“What this study aims to do is determine what triggers PTSD, depression and anxiety in fire-fighters, and then look at ways to improve their mental health outcomes.”
Ms Armstrong said the study would also look at fire-fighters who remained healthy in spite of their exposure to tragedy and trauma.
“While we are concerned about the numbers of fire-fighters who are at risk of depression and anxiety, we also recognise that the majority, up to 80 per cent, are able to cope without mental health difficulties,” she said.
“So we want to know how is it that these people are able to stay in the job and stay healthy.”
Ms Armstrong said fire-fighters tended to stay in their jobs, with the average career lasting more than 15 years.