Worrying data from the mental health charity Mind has found that nearly nine in 10 (87 percent) 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 online survey of over 3500 emergency services personnel also revealed that more than half (55 percent) had experienced mental health problems at some point. This is in sharp contrast to findings of the general workforce from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), December 2011, ‘Focus on mental health in the Workplace’, which reveal 26 percent of respondents had experienced a mental health problem – indicating that working in emergency services is associated with a greater risk of developing poor 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 percent 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 nearly three in five (57 percent) 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.
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.
Mental health charity Mind has been awarded LIBOR funding to develop a major new programme of mental health support for emergency services staff and volunteers from police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue services across England.
The Blue Light programme has been developed in consultation with emergency service staff and volunteers and will be delivered between April 2015 and March 2016, involving local Minds and professional bodies, employers, charities and unions that represent emergency services staff and volunteers.
The Blue Light Programme focuses on four main areas: tackling stigma and discrimination; embedding workplace wellbeing; building resilience; and providing information and support.
Mind is urging emergency services organisations to register their interest in signing the Blue Light Time to Change pledge – a commitment to develop meaningful action plans to support the wellbeing of their staff and volunteers. The action plans will follow the model developed by Time to Change, the anti-stigma campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, but will be more tailored to the emergency services needs.