Self-care in difficult work roles

Many of us deal with difficult situations at work that can have an impact on our mental health. When our job or volunteer work forces us to deal with especially challenging scenarios, it is even more important to practice good self-care techniques to ensure we can stay on top of things.
People who work or volunteer in emergency services face one of the toughest gigs out there – aside from long hours, shift work and significant responsibilities, their consistent exposure to danger and trauma makes this one of the most difficult jobs from a mental health standpoint as well.

Our emergency services, including police, fire and rescue, and ambulance; along with voluntary emergency organisations like the State Emergency Services (SES), coast guard, rural fire service and life savers, are the backbone of our society. They work to protect and ensure public health and safety by responding to, and preventing various emergency situations.

These areas of work can be extremely rewarding but the potential for emotional challenges is very high. People in the emergency services regularly deal with ‘life and death’ challenges and the trauma that can stem from witnessing distressing situations. While in most cases an individual can recover from traumatic events by using their own coping strategies and with the help of their support networks, some will go on to develop a mental health problem. Exposure to trauma can be a significant contributor to developing symptoms of common mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and suicide.


Working or volunteering in ‘front line’ or ‘coalface’ roles like emergency services requires extra dedication to self-care – the old maxim of “look after yourself before you can help others” is especially important in these sectors. Here’s a few tips to help you ensure good mental health in tough work roles:

1. Talk about it: rally a group of people that you can lean on when you’re dealing with a tough situation. It can help to have confidants both in and out of work – those who understand the unique pressures of your role but also those who can take your mind off work by discussing other things
2. Work-life balance: strive to find time to enjoy the lighter aspects of life like family and social time, relaxation and exercise.
3. Exercise the body to help the mind: it helps clear your thoughts, increases the ‘happy hormones’ and helps you become more resilient.
4. Reach out: seek professional help if things get too much. We all need a helping hand sometimes.

Organisations like The Black Dog Institute, Beyond Blue and LifeLine have some great resources specifically designed for people working in the emergency services that are also applicable to other roles that deal with intense situations. Check out their resources for industry specific advice.

You can also find some great advice for how to manage work stress, work / life balance, workplace happiness and tips for various ways to protect your mental health on the MensLine blog.

If you need to talk to someone, give one of our MensLine Australia counsellors a call on 1300 78 99 78 or register for online chat.

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