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15th June 2021 Mental Health

New research guides mental health support for young emergency volunteers

A woman and two men talking outside a building

Research to help young volunteers exposed to traumatic events

Young volunteers are exposed to potentially traumatic events leading to significant impacts on mental health. Research led by Dr Amanda Taylor has found that 25 per cent of volunteers have experienced an event that affected them deeply in the course of their volunteering.

Dr Taylor, from the School of Psychology at the University of Adelaide focused on maintaining good health in young volunteers. Her findings provide the evidence base for a suite of new resources to support young volunteers and their agencies to improve their mental health literacy and establish stronger support networks for their workforces.

The Positive Mental Health in Young Adult Emergency Services Personnel project was collaboratively funded by The Hospital Research Foundation (THRF) Group and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre and supported by the AFAC, the National Council for fire and emergency services.

The University of Adelaide worked collaboratively with Military and Emergency Services Health Australia (MESHA, part of THRF Group), Flinders University, the University of Western Australia, and the University of British Columbia in Canada, to undertake the research.


Dr Miranda Van Hooff, Executive Director, MESHA

Dr Miranda Van Hooff, Executive Director of MESHA said: “The Hospital Research Foundation Group, through MESHA, is proud to have co-funded and collaborated on this important piece of research which will have a positive impact on the young people who serve our community.”

“We hope the practical and tailored resources that have been developed can be utilised by both young emergency services volunteers as well as their agencies to promote and support the health and wellbeing of our young emergency service volunteers now and into the future.”

The research is the evidence base for the new Care4Guide. Designed with and for young volunteers, the Care4Guide is a practical self-completed guide to maintaining positive mental health and wellbeing as a young fire and emergency service volunteer.

“The Care4Guide gives young volunteers, their agencies and the whole fire and emergency sector the tools they need to have a conversation about mental health early in their engagement,” Dr Richard Thornton, CEO of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC.

Other resources produced include an Agency Implementation Guide aimed at agency leaders, Fact Sheets that summarise key findings, and shareable assets such as posters that agencies can use to promote positive mental health within brigades, groups and units.

These resources can all be found on the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC’s website:

Key Research Findings

  • International research identified that volunteer exposure to potentially traumatising events is common
  • 25% of young volunteers had experienced an event that affected them deeply during their volunteering. 4 in 5 young firefighters had experienced at least one stressful event in the course of their role
  • 75% of surveyed volunteers had an active role in the 2019–20 Australian bushfires. 44% lived in a bushfire affected area
  • Young volunteers generally perceived that their volunteer role benefited their wellbeing via a sense of contributing to the community
  • Young volunteers have higher levels of ­­probable post-traumatic stress disorder (8.8%) compared to older volunteers (4.7%)
  • Young volunteers believed that they had good skills for identifying and responding to potential mental health concerns in others but had less well-developed skills for identifying mental health concerns in themselves
  • Young volunteers perceived mental health-related stigma is still present within many brigades, groups and units, particularly among older volunteers and personnel