Oliver Brecht says NSP workers can sometimes have trouble recognising their own stress.
“Stress is sort of the mental health version of having a cough,” he says. “If you get a cough and then you rest and eat well, you get over it. But if you go for a 10-kilometre run in the rain and cold then it will get much, much worse.”
Oliver is the president of peak body, the Employee Assistance Professional Association of Australasia (EAPAA), and says frontline health work can be difficult – and the potential for stress is high.
He says people in frontline work are much more likely than others to experience both specific and vicarious trauma. “They are much more likely to experience it than people who work in an accounting business, for example.
“People struggle to recognise stress. If you look after yourself and change the situation that is causing the stress, you will overcome it. But if you don’t it can grow into some other physiological issue which can be quite disabling. However, it does depend on the individual whether they are at risk. It helps if they have support around them.”
In most organisations staff who feel overwhelmed by the job can get help through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The scheme is confidential.
NSP work can throw up situations which can challenge workers’ mental wellbeing, such as feeling helpless, hearing traumatic stories and facing the toll of overdose.
Oliver says accumulated trauma can sit beneath the surface for long periods and then pour out when some event triggers the stress.
“You may experience a lot of trauma and then there’s that one thing happens and it can be the smallest, slightest thing and it can be things that happened years before.”
– Royal Abbott