fire mental healthSevere concerns about the mental health of people working and volunteering for the emergency services have been raised after figures revealed they are more than a third higher than the population average.

Office for National Statistics figures reveal that the number of police officers whose deaths were classified as suicides or undetermined intent almost doubled from 15 in 2009 to 29 in 2013. Figures from the 40,000-strong Fire Brigades Union (FBU) show that in the past three years at least 13 firefighters have taken their own lives - a third higher than the UK average of 19 per 100,000 for UK males.

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Both the Police Federation, which represents 124,000 officers, and the FBU suspect job cuts, and the increased workloads and stress levels for remaining employees, have led to a deterioration in their members’ mental health. The fire and rescue services have suffered a 30% reduction since 2010, resulting in about 7,000 job losses and 40 fire stations closed across the UK while police forces could lose 22,000 jobs under new spending cuts.

General secretary of the FBU Matt Wrack said: "In recent years we have seen the creation of ever more complicated shift patterns as attempts are made to cut costs and job numbers. Some of these include extremely lengthy periods at work.

"At the same time a firefighter’s income and pension in real terms has seen a significant decline over the past five years. All of these factors are having a considerable impact on firefighters’ mental health."

Biggest killer of men under-45
In late 2014 charity Mind found that nearly 9 in 10 members of the services (87%) had experienced stress, low mood and poor mental health at some point while working for the emergency services. In March, the charity launched a government-funded Blue Light support programme for any of the estimated 250,000 emergency services personnel and volunteers who may experience mental ill-health. It is distributing information booklets, training managers and has registered more than 200 individuals as workplace champions.

John Tully, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, added: "People are working inordinate hours of overtime for no payment, for the simple reason that they want to do a good job and see the job finished, but it’s an intolerable situation, which can only get worse.

"Increasingly, police officers are put in situations where they feel they’ve let the public down, they feel they’ve let themselves down and they’re ashamed of that because of their professionalism, so it’s no wonder that some do take that last drastic step. We’ve seen, in the last five years, a 43% increase in sickness absences by police officers in relation to stress and stress-related illnesses."

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. A male suicide prevention charity, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (Calm), says social and cultural barriers are responsible for men not seeking help. A survey by police support network Call4Backup found that more than 20% of respondents said they had attempted or contemplated suicide following a mental illness. The network has already helped a number of officers even before its official launch as a charity.

CFOA President Paul Hancock said: "The association recognises the dangerous and challenging jobs that fire and rescue services staff are exposed to on a daily basis. We know that occasionally the effects of these incidents can adversely impact on the psychological wellbeing of staff.

"Consequently services have occupational health teams and access to other support, such as ‘critical incident debriefing and defusing’, as well as the ability to organise one-to-one counselling. The health and wellbeing of all our staff is of paramount importance."

For more information on Mind's support services contact: bluelightinfo@mind.org.uk