Spotlight on mental health and psychological support in AUSMAT framework

07 Jun 2023

AUSMAT have responded to a host of health emergencies since 2010 and have supported clinical professionals across the Indo-Pacific in recovering from major disasters.

Beyond remaining equipped, prepared and ready to respond, AUSMAT members similarly need to prioritise personal wellness and mental health prior to and during a deployment, and once they return home.

Response Psychological Services have provided psychological support for AUSMAT over the last decade. This includes during AUSMAT team member training, team selection pre-deployment, providing 24-7 support while in country, and debriefing for team members post-deployment

Clinical Services Director of Response Psychological Services Luke McCormack explained why individual team member psychological support and wellbeing is key to creating safe and effective AUSMAT teams.

Prior to enlisting in the AUSMAT Team Member Course, an online personality assessment and psychological wellbeing check assists in ensuring that candidates are aligned for environments which may come with high stress situations or lead to confronting scenes.

“Most people who apply for AUSMAT are physically prepared and obtain the professional requirements to go through training. Providing a psychological assessment ensures they are mentally prepared, and have the tools for managing stress to support them to be top performers in the field,” Mr McCormack said.

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Once a team member is selected for a deployment, they are required to complete psychological wellbeing checks online before departure, during the mission, and on return from deployment. These checks act as a means of gathering useful team wellbeing information and provide a prompt for the team member to access psychological support as they see fit at any point in the deployment cycle.

Team members can access services for any reason. Sometimes it will be through reviewing their own preparedness to deploy, other times it will be an incident on deployment, and at others it might be a review and consolidation of experience of the deployment through a structured debrief. There are no restrictions to accessing the service and all contact remains confidential.

Occasionally, teams are faced with challenges around infrastructure which can be affected during or post disaster. Though this may disrupt communication and regular contact with a team in country, Mr McCormack says there are a number of tools implemented in the AUSMAT framework, which continue to provide mental health and psychological team support in all scenarios; including ensuring Team Leads are trained ahead of time to provide mental health support on the ground.

“We work closely with Team Leads to ensure they have the ability to access our services easily and can refer issues to us if identified during the mission or after.

Response Psychological provides 24-7 support for teams while they are on deployment, along with support in the debriefing process once they have returned.

“We want them to come home feeling healthy mentally and emotionally so they can comfortably return to their day-to-day life and are confident to deploy again in the future.”

“We know that most people actually come home with a high sense of contribution and appreciation for their team and the work they have done, but we are aware that some members may have witnessed stressful or challenging scenarios, in this situation we offer a debrief session which can be an important step in consolidating the experience.”

Mr McCormack said he is continually impressed by the professionalism and teamwork on all AUSMAT deployments in recognising the importance of mental health and wellbeing

“AUSMAT team members are very cognisant of their wellbeing on deployment, there is no bravado, people recognise that to be resilient and strong you need to be open-minded and aware, and consider your mental health. Psychological balance is at the core of a high-performing team from the start of team member training through all successive missions and thereafter.

NCCTRC Acting Director Disaster Preparedness, Response, and AUSMAT Mission Lead Kath McDermott said from a leadership perspective mental wellness is equally as integral as physical health when a team is deployed to assist in a health emergency.

“A Team Lead needs to have an awareness and understanding of their team’s mental fitness ahead of deployment, this ensures leadership can provide support to each team member as well as patients when we hit the ground,” Ms McDermott said.

“Knowing that Luke and the Response Psychological team are available 24/7 is essential for AUSMATeers as well as the Team Lead. When I have been deployed as the Team Lead, I appreciated having that additional support and having an expert to troubleshoot and access for guidance at what can be really challenging moments.”

“Mental wellness is vital for high performing teams, much like ensuring we are physically prepared, it’s just as important to ensure they are mentally prepared and strong.”

Mr McCormack explains mental health and wellness as essential in strengthening a dynamic, adaptive team.

“Psychological assessment and screening is important in ensuring the team dynamic works, we want to know people will have the ability to work together, respond appropriately and perform while supporting their own mental health and the wellbeing of other team members,” he concluded.

AUSMAT; Australian Medical Assistance Team; NCCTRC; National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre

Gabrielle Lyons
Communications and Digital Engagement Officer

Gabrielle joined the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre in 2021 as Communications and Digital Engagement Officer, supporting media requests, social media coverage and operational requirements for NCCTRC and AUSMAT while on deployment. Gabrielle comes to the NCCTRC with substantial experience as a radio and digital journalist, most recently producing for ABC’s flagship program Radio National Drive with Patricia Karvelas and supporting Afternoon Briefing on ABC News 24, a program dedicated to current affairs and political analysis. Gabrielle specialises in Asia-Pacific politics and human interest feature writing. Beyond Australian borders, Gabrielle has also co-created and hosted an international travel podcast, which was nominated for Best Australian Podcast of 2019. You can follow Gabrielle on Twitter @gj_lyons