stressMental health awareness and promotion training in the Fire Service can help tackle the issue of heightened risk of stress, according to new research.

The study, ‘Promoting Well-being and Reducing Stigma about Mental Health in the Fire Service’, revealed the positive impact that awareness training has on staff’s knowledge about poor mental health – an issue that affects 20% of the UK’s workforce. The study also revealed a significant improvement in attitude towards this issue.

This is the first study to compare the impact of workplace mental health promotion interventions in the Fire Service. The research was developed by Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust Community Psychology Service in 2010. In the study, 106 Fire Service line managers were randomly allocated to one of three training conditions, 89 of whom completed pre- and post-study questionnaires.

Former Fire Commissioner George Danz, from the International Fire Chiefs Association, said: "Stress is one of the most serious occupational hazards in the fire service with mental health issues affected one in five firefighters. Mental health conditions can affect health, job performance, career decision-making, morale, and family life. Emotional problems, as well as problems with alcohol and drugs, are becoming increasingly evident. High rates of attrition, divorce, occupational disease, and injury continue and suicide is a real and tragic alternative for some."

Changing attitudes among firefighters 
The study included two training programmes to compare with the control condition – a leaflet and Q&A session (LS). The ‘Looking After Wellbeing at Work (LWW)’ course is a locally designed programme, developed and delivered with mental health service users and volunteers, that acknowledges the pressures associated with mental health problems and that it is “normal to be different”. It has since been used with teachers and mental health nursing staff and has been shown to be consistently effective in positively influencing attitudes to mental health problems and knowledge and efficacy about mental health.

Key findings of the study include:
• Two particular themes were identified from the qualitative interviews: 1) participants described they were more able to recognise and respond to signs of mental health problems and to help their friends and colleagues, 2) participants described changing attitudes towards mental health issues and reported being more open-minded and less judgemental. In contrast, the LS did not produce significant changes in attitude or knowledge
• The quantitative and qualitative evaluations suggest that the MHFA and LWW courses are appropriate to address the issues around stress in the Fire Service and promote the understanding of workplace influences on stress, increased the awareness of how colleagues and managers can help, and promoted more positive approaches to mental health.

Poppy Jaman, MFHA England’s CEO, added: “We are encouraged by the findings this study into mental health promotion in the Fire Service because it supports our view that awareness training has a hugely positive impact on how mental ill health is dealt with in the workplace. In the past year we have seen a dramatic increase in the number and range of organisations, including the Fire Service and Police, all seeking solutions to the increasing issue of mental ill health in the workplace.
“It is through good quality, specifically tailored training that we are able to help employers raise awareness of mental health across their organisations and lift the stigma that has been long associated with mental ill health. We look forward to working with other regions in the Fire Service, all of which could benefit from introducing MHFA training into their organisations and teams.”

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