"Someone always dies at Christmas," paramedic Jenn Pedvin thought morbidly as she drove to where a young woman had hung herself.
She got the shock of her life to discover the woman was a close relative.
The woman had been unrecognisable while being treated, but when she found her own father at the hospital, Ms Pedvin discovered her identity.
"I called my mum wailing and it all spiralled from there," she said.
"I've never gotten over that night."
The Canberran managed to push aside the traumatic tragedy for a while. But then came chilling flashbacks, debilitating anxiety and suicidal thoughts. She dragged herself to the doctor and walked out of the appointment as the one in 10 Australian emergency workers with a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD is slowly entering the radar of emergency service agencies in the way it became recognised in the military some years ago. In light of this, the ACT Emergency Service Agency is reforming its mental health strategies, with the aim of better managing the complex challenges of prevention, identification and treatment of trauma-related illness.
Ms Pedvin hoped the long-awaited initiative will help break down the stigma around mental health and enhance the support tools offered to workers facing tragedy daily.
The psychological impact of that devastating Christmas night, along with an overwhelming feeling of constant fear, pushed Ms Pedvin over the edge. Feeling anxious and fearful for no reason were feelings Ms Pedvin believed many of her colleagues silently battle.
"I always felt like I was being followed," she said.
"I remember being on my way to an average job and talking to my partner about what we'd do if we got attacked. I was running through our escape plan and my partner probably thought it was insanity."
Months later, she attended another attempted suicide and could not handle the post-incident police interview, which went for three gruelling hours and required her to recall every last detail.
"I just couldn't do it."
"After that I would just spend full days crying on the couch at home."
After some time off work, she took on off-the-road duties for 12 months. She's since returned to the frontline, where some days are harder than others. And the tough days follow her home.
"I still get night terrors."
"I wake up in the middle of the night trying to climb out of something, out of danger."
Supportive colleagues and bosses helped her recovery, but Ms Pedvin said there were areas of improvement she believed the new ACT ESA welfare manager could address.
"I actually recommended we hire a welfare manager, because before it was lumped in with injury management".
"Mental health needs to be treated as its own injury, with specific support, and a full-time position will give much-needed time and focus on that."
The new welfare manager, Anne Marie, accepts she has a big task ahead.
But she was confident the new welfare package would change the culture around mental illness and "make it okay to talk about it".
Among the initiatives being introduced were compulsory "psychological first aid training," a peer-support program where staff who've experienced mental illness are the first point of contact for others, and colour-coded cards that indicate a worker's mental health state.
"Colleagues can't always find the words to express their feelings, so they come in and show that they're not feeling great, or a bit 'red'," she said.
ACTAS boss Jon Quiggin said he hoped the new welfare program, under the agency's 'Blueprint for change', would help staff better understand their own mental health.
While he believed enhanced awareness of mental health was helping to weaken stigma, he said a perception of that stigma remained.
"People can be fearful about what coming forward will mean for their jobs," Mr Quiggin said.
"And I'm not sure that this welfare program will deliver an absolute solution, but it does go a long way in recognising the concerns staff have and provide support mechanisms to get them the assistance they need."
Transport Workers Union official Ben Sweaney said the new program was a step forward, and hoped it would improve challenges around welfare management, such as inconsistencies with staff contact during mental health leave.
"Some are bombarded with calls and contact whereas other officers complain that they sit at home for periods with little or no contact from the ACTAS. Both scenarios exacerbate officers stress and mental health," he said.
Ms Pedvin expects her battle with PTSD to last a lifetime. But she's not about to back down from the frontline.
"Despite everything, I still love what I do. I love helping people," she said.
"But not one of us could sit with hand on heart and say we've coped perfectly all along."
"Maybe if we all start to talk about it, we'll realise just how common it is in this job to feel like I do."
For help or information, call Lifeline 131 114 or beyondblue 1300 224 636.