MHFA IN ACTION –
THE COUNTRY FIRE AUTHORITY

THE COUNTRY FIRE AUTHORITY (CFA)

Protecting the wellbeing of those who protect others

Australia is home to ruggedly beautiful bush landscapes and a diverse population of regional and rural communities. Unfortunately, our harsh climates and natural environment can lead to bushfires and community crises. In Victoria, the Country Fire Authority (CFA) plays a significant role in keeping people safe from fires and other emergencies. This organisation relies on the dedication of staff and committed volunteers who often put themselves physically and mentally on the front line, to protect and support people and property in their local communities.

Acknowledging this, the CFA have established a comprehensive mental health literacy program, to help support their members. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training has become a key component of this program, which seeks to build general mental health literacy, amongst the members that are often the first points-of-contact, during times of crisis.

MHFA training has been widely provided to those in leadership roles within the organisation. There is also a significant interest in the course amongst volunteers and staff, with subscription to training often outstripping capacity.

A challenging year

Cara McIntyre, Wellbeing Consultant at the CFA describes the impact that emergency services work can have on individuals, acknowledging that the work of the CFA is by nature challenging and can compromise the psychological health of volunteers and staff. “In Australia, emergency services personnel record higher rates of psychological distress and post-traumatic stress disorder than the general population, this includes CFA members”. Prevention and intervention are required to keep these members psychologically safe and well, and education is key.

As Australian communities segued from one crisis to another in 2020, the global pandemic presented new challenges for organisations looking to continue their delivery of MHFA training. How could training that had typically been delivered face-to-face, now be delivered during times of social distancing and even state-based lockdowns? The need was perhaps more pertinent than ever, following such a terrible and severe fire season, and with the added pressures of social disconnect and collective distress that was being experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The course material is so very relevant and timely, thankfully as mental health discussions are becoming more prevalent in the community, which in itself will reduce shame and stigma felt for so long by people struggling with mental ill-health.”

CFA Course Participant

Adapting to change

Fortunately, the team at MHFA was able to adapt and offer continued support for organisations such as CFA, via a new blended online training model that allowed participants to complete their training entirely online. While some of CFA’s internal Instructors were initially ‘nervous’ about the online approach, it was ultimately both seamless and insightful, and there was a shared sense of pride across the organisation of their resilience and adaptability. This new online MHFA offering actually promoted additional interest from rural and remote communities who may otherwise have struggled to attend a face-to-face training session due to geographical challenges.

To date, feedback from both Instructors and course participants has been overwhelmingly positive”, and Cara anticipates that the CFA will continue to offer a mix of face to face and blended online training in the future.

A commitment to mental health

Cara went on to say that “members can apply MHFA knowledge in all parts of their lives, not just in CFA roles. With huge diversity amongst our membership, this is another reason the standard and blended community training versions are the best fit for us.”

As the CFA continues to provide training amidst and beyond the current bushfire season, MHFA Australia will continue to work with community organisations across Australia, to deliver practical, evidence-based training. In a time of prolonged change and uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, frontline workers and emergency services like CFA have needed to adapt and remain flexible to continue to provide support in times of crisis.

CFA has done just that, and through its commitment to mental health literacy programs and Mental Health First Aid training, continues to build communities with the knowledge, confidence and skills to have potentially life-saving conversations, in the moments that matter most.

To find out more about CFA’s range of wellbeing support services visit https://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/health-and-wellbeing

MHFA CONVERSATIONS

Our Acting Community Engagement Manager Erin Healy sat down with CFA Wellbeing Consultant and MHFA Instructor Naomi Engelke, to learn more about their mission to train staff and volunteers across Victoria as MHFAiders, and to hear about Naomi’s experience as an MHFA Instructor within the CFA.

Click on the videos below to see clips from this interview.

VIDEO 1: Watch the video to hear what it means to Naomi to be a Mental Health First Aid Instructor at CFA and the impact MHFA has had on those she has trained.

VIDEO 2: Watch the video to hear Naomi talk about the communities she works with and the people she has trained in her role as an MHFA Instructor. 

VIDEO 3: Watch the video to learn more about the common mental health problems that are seen across CFA and emergency services communities. 

VIDEO 4: Watch the video to hear more about the positive impacts of MHFA training at CFA.

VIDEO 5: Watch the video and hear Naomi’s advice and encouragement for anyone considering completing MHFA training.

VIDEO 6: Watch the video to hear Naomi share her rewarding experience of being an MHFA Instructor. 

View all MHFA Case Studies

View all our MHFA in Action case studies and learn more about the innovative ideas and ways that workplaces and communities are using Mental Health First Aid training to create a culture of care and support, where everyone is encouraged to talk more openly about mental health.

How are you managing the mental health of your organisation?

If you work for an organisation that provides a frontline community service (or any organisation for that matter) you should consider the benefits of Mental Health First Aid training for your staff and volunteers.

MHFA protects people, who go on to protect themselves and others. This is the simple philosophy of this highly adaptable, much needed world-wide movement – thinking globally yet acting locally.

If you work for an organisation that provides a frontline community service (or any organisation for that matter) you should consider the benefits of Mental Health First Aid training for your staff and volunteers.

MHFA protects people, who go on to protect themselves and others. This is the simple philosophy of this highly adaptable, much needed world-wide movement – thinking globally yet acting locally.

Learn more about the different course delivery options for your workplace and community

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Mental Health First Aid, MHFAider and ALGEE are registered trademarks of Mental Health First Aid International. MHFA, Mental Health First Aider and For Anyone. For Everyone. are trademarks of Mental Health First Aid International.

Copyright© Mental Health First Aid Australia 2022

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