The objective of this phenomenological study was to describe families' experiences of supporting veterans and emergency service first responders (ESFRs) (known also as public safety personnel) to seek help for a mental health problem. In-depth semi-structured open-ended interviews were undertaken with 25 family members of Australian veterans and ESFRs. Fourteen participants were family members of police officers. Data were analysed thematically. Participants described a long and difficult journey of supporting the person's help-seeking across six themes. Traumatic exposures, bullying in the workplace and lack of organisational support experienced by veterans/ESFRs caused significant family distress. Families played a vital role in help-seeking but were largely ignored by veteran/ESFR organisations. The research provides a rich understanding of distress and moral injury that is experienced not only by the service members but is transferred vicariously to their family within the mental health help-seeking journey. Veteran and ESFR organisations and mental health services need to shift from a predominant view of distress as located within an individual (intrapsychic) towards a life-course view of distress as impacting families and which is more relational, systemic, cultural and contextual.
- emergency service first responders
- mental health
- moral injury
- posttraumatic stress