An online survey of more than 3,500 emergency services staff and volunteers by mental health charity Mind has found that 87% of emergency services staff and volunteers surveyed have experienced stress, low mood and poor mental health at some point while working for the emergency services.
The survey also revealed that more than half (55%) of police, fire and ambulance service personnel had experienced mental health problems at some point – more than double the general workforce's experience, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
Speaking at today's launch event [6 March] Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "Emergency service workers save lives every day, helping people in trouble or in need, but we need to support them as they deal with the incredibly stressful and sometimes harrowing situations they face in the line of duty.
"That’s why, at the end of last year, we asked Mind to work with our emergency services personnel to develop and trial a new package of frontline mental health support. So I’m delighted that this programme is now underway. We still have a long way to go to break down the stigma around mental health but with initiatives like this we’re helping to drive a culture change so that one day we’ll see parity of esteem between physical and mental health."
Despite the greater prevalence of mental health problems among emergency services personnel, Mind’s research indicates that they are less likely to take time off sick as a result. Just 43% of emergency service workers and volunteers surveyed said they have taken time off work due to poor mental health. The CIPD has found that this figure is much higher among the general workforce, with 57% saying they had needed time off for poor mental health.
This suggests that emergency service workers find it harder than other professions to say when they’re not at their best and keep coming to work regardless. It could be that personnel are fearful of talking about mental health at work or don’t believe their employers view mental health problems as valid reasons for sickness absence.
Eleanor Hathaway works for Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service and has personal experience of depression said: “Part of me was concerned that my colleagues would think, ‘If she can’t cope with something mentally, she shouldn’t be here’. Part of me was concerned about how I’d be dealt with. And part of me was confused. How do you explain why you’re so upset, when you don’t know yourself?”
Staff and volunteers in the emergency services have already been identified as at higher risk of developing a mental health problem, due to the unique set of difficulties these challenging roles present. However this data is the first to reveal the scale of the problem and the level of unmet need. Mind has received £4 million in funding from LIBOR fines to deliver a programme supporting ‘Blue Light’ personnel with their mental health.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, concluded: “Not only are many of our blue light personnel struggling with their mental health, but they’re less likely to seek support or have time off sick than the general workforce. The programme we’ll be delivering over the next year aims to ensure that the estimated quarter of a million people working and volunteering within police, ambulance, fire and search and rescue divisions are able to talk openly about their mental health and access the support they need to stay well, recover and continue doing the vital and challenging roles they do serving the community.
“Since Mind was awarded the funding and we have begun work on the project, we have been really encouraged by the response from everyone we have spoken to. There is a clear consensus that this is an issue that needs tackling and it’s clear that the will is there to address it.”
Organisations can register their interest in signing the Blue Light pledge to develop meaningful action plans to support their staff and volunteers, or find out more information about the programme, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting www.mind.org.uk/BlueLight