Mental health of current and retired firefighters

Firefighters are faced with potentially traumatic incidents on a regular basis. While a number of studies have examined the occurrence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the role of multiple traumas on other mental health sequelae, such as depression and alcohol misuse, amongst emergency workers has been unclear.  Additionally, the mental health of retired emergency workers has often been ignored by previous research. Together with researchers from the School of Psychology at The University of New South Wales and The University of Sydney, we have conducted a study examining the prevalence of a broad range of mental health problems amongst both current and retired firefighters in New South Wales.

A cross-sectional survey was completed by current (n=488) and retired (n=265) firefighters. Amongst current firefighters, rates of PTSD and depression were 8% and 5% respectively. Rates of alcohol use disorders were much higher, with 19% reporting consumption of 21 or more alcoholic drinks per week and 28% regular binge drinking.  There were significantly higher levels of mental illness amongst retired firefighters, with prevalence estimates of PTSD and depression both 18% and 30% reporting heavy alcohol use. The rates of all mental health problems continued to rise in a linear manner with each additional trauma exposure.