A common language to demystify trauma

Emergency Management Victoria

February 2019 marked the 10-year anniversary of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires, one of the worst natural disasters in Victoria’s history. Our wellbeing communication toolkit sought to empower workplace leaders in emergency service organisations to have conversations about mental health and use internal communications to reduce the perceived stigma of seeking help.

As part of government plans to publicly commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the 2009 Victorian bushfires, Emergency Management Victoria (EMV) asked Fenton to develop a communication toolkit to support the wellbeing of staff and volunteers of emergency services first responder agencies through consistent messages and tactful language.

Emergency services workers are often exposed to traumatic experiences and events as part of their work, but people respond to traumatic events differently. A consistent approach to communication is particularly important at times when people who experienced trauma in the past may be reminded of it through psychological triggers.

Workshops with emergency service staff and a review of existing evidence-based communication materials pointed to a lack of resources tailored to the needs of first responders. Secondly, individual agencies often approach psychological wellbeing and communication around trauma differently, which can be confusing for staff and volunteers who work in more than one agency.

We developed the wellbeing communication toolkit as a practical guide with a set of resources that would complement existing employee assistance programs. It explains the effects of different kinds of psychological trauma, gives advice on managing trauma and describes where and when to seek professional help.

Toolkit resources define a common language for communicating about psychological wellbeing and include tips for planning activity before, during and after a traumatic event. Jargon-free conversational messages remind people to check-in on themselves and others and suggest simple ways to do this without intruding.

The wellbeing communication toolkit was distributed to emergency service first responder agencies and organisations involved in emergency response across Victoria in the lead up to the bushfires commemoration and was positively received.