Hawke's Bay firefighters are on a mission to raise awareness about mental health issues in emergency services personnel and fight the stigma associated with them.

They are piloting a 100km emergency services relay run for mental health through Hawke's Bay, which they are calling The Hawke's Bay Hundy, to show that no one has to go through mental health issues alone.

The relay is the brainchild of Hastings firefighter Erin Tahau who is organising the event along with fellow firefighter Jason Broome.

"As emergency first responders, we are going to more and more medical calls due to mental illness", Tahau said.


"On top of the high levels of critical incident exposure we face daily, our firefighter's psychological wellbeing is becoming compromised.

"However, Fire and Emergency New Zealand are not the only emergency service exposed to these critical incidences, which is why the relay isn't exclusive to Fire and Emergency New Zealand, but to all Emergency Services in New Zealand and the public who want to support the event."

Senior firefighter Jason Broome said it was likely that nearly half of emergency personnel in Hawke's Bay and nationwide suffer from mental health issues in some way or form.

"The exact number is difficult to quantify because treatment for these issues is confidential.

"However, as emergency service personnel we see the effects of mental health in our society on a daily basis.

"Often this constant exposure to emotional and tragic events causes our own to suffer from mental health issues as well.

"This event is a way for us to raise funds, awareness and to help those suffering from mental health and break the cycle."

Studies and research done on emergency service personnel in Australia, the UK and USA show a high prevalence of PTSD, and psychological injuries, he said.


"Many of these studies showed that emergency service personnel have two times or more risk compared to the general population.

"These studies also showed the accumulative effect of exposure to traumatic events correlates to a higher incidence of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.

"Generally after tough calls we talk about them among ourselves and we are getting better at this. We also provide our personnel access to psychologists and fitness programmes to help them.

"But there is still a stigma that surrounds psychological illness and often we need to get to a very dark and dangerous place before we reach out for help."

The key message for the event is "it takes a team, you don't go through it alone".

"We initially thought that there are some people who may want to complete this as an individual event, but just like in life to those suffering from a mental illness, it takes a team of people around you to help support you through it.

"You shouldn't go through it alone. We want to push people to form a relay team, train with their team leading up to the event and then also to have a support crew on the day to help them through it."

So far five teams have signed up for the race.

The maximum number for the inaugural race is 170 teams. They are hoping to raise $10,000 from the event for STAROS- a Hawke's Bay trust which provides information and support for those bereaved by suicide.

The event will take place on September 28 during New Zealand's Mental Health Week.

It will begin at Bayview Fire Station and finish at the Hastings Fire Station. More information and registration forms can be found on http://www.hbhundy.nz//.