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One in four emergency services workers has thought about ending their lives

Wednesday, 20 April 2016 Mind

Worrying data from Mind reveals the high incidence of suicidal thoughts among ‘Blue Light’ staff and volunteers in England and Wales.

An online poll has found more than one in four (27%) people had contemplated taking their own lives due to stress and poor mental health while working for the emergency services, while nearly two thirds (63%) had contemplated leaving their job or voluntary role because of stress or poor mental health.

The online survey of over 1,600 staff and volunteers from police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue services also showed that over 9 in 10 (92%) respondents had experienced stress, low mood and poor mental health at some point while working for the emergency services, while a staggering 62% said they had experienced a mental health problem – such as depression, anxiety disorder, OCD, PTSD, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia – while working or volunteering in their current or previous Blue Light role.

In response to these high levels of stress, low mood and poor mental health among emergency service workers, for the past year Mind has been delivering a major programme of support for emergency services staff and volunteers.

Since March 2015, through our ‘Blue Light Programme’ we’ve seen:

  • 300,000 information resources disseminated
  • over 5,000 managers participate in line manager training
  • over 440 emergency service staff register to be ‘Blue Light Champions’
  • 54 Blue Light employers and 9 national associations sign the Blue Light Time to Change pledge - a commitment to raising awareness of mental health, tackling stigma and helping enable staff and volunteers to talk more openly about their mental health at work.

Despite the high prevalence of mental health problems, the survey revealed that less than half (48%) had taken time off work due to stress, low mood or poor mental health. In addition, nearly half (46%) said that someone would be treated differently (in a negative way) if they disclosed a mental health problem at their organisation. Mind believes these results could indicate there is still a taboo around talking about these issues and a determination to continue going into work even when unwell – which can be problematic.

Respondents to our poll also told us that, while working for the emergency services:

Two in five (41%) had been prescribed medication (such as antidepressants, sleeping tablets etc.) due to stress and poor mental health
5% had made an actual attempt to take their own life due to stress and poor mental health
Over half (55%) had sought medical help due to stress and poor mental health
6% had been admitted to hospital due to stress and poor mental health

Faye McGuinness, Blue Light Programme Manager, said:
"It’s shocking that our Blue Light workers are experiencing such high levels of mental health problems, low mood and stress, with one in four thinking about leaving the emergency services, and even contemplating suicide, as a result. The challenging nature of the job - with its unique pressures - can put staff and volunteers at greater risk of developing a mental health problem. That’s why it’s so important support is made available - to ensure dedicated workers are at their best and ready to carry out these incredibly difficult and life-saving roles we often take for granted."

"Lots of our respondents said they feel they would be treated differently if they had a mental health problem, and wouldn’t feel comfortable coming forward if they were struggling with their mental health. Thankfully, there is a great deal of good practice happening at an organisational level across the country, as a result of activity being delivered via Mind’s Blue Light Programme, for example our Blue Light champions who have so bravely shared their own experiences and encouraged others to follow suit."

"In the last year, we’ve made some great strides in raising awareness, tackling stigma and encouraging working environments where people feel able to talk about mental health. But it’s not possible to change working cultures overnight. We need to see an ongoing commitment to prioritising the emotional wellbeing of emergency services workers to enable them to continue doing their vital work serving our community. We’re trying to secure more Government funding to support the emotional wellbeing of our Blue Light staff and volunteers, particularly given the extremely and consistently high levels of stress, anxiety and poor mood reported by emergency services workers."

Esmail Rifai, 50, from Blackburn, works for North West Ambulance Service. He recently returned back to work following a long period of illness (work related anxiety and depression) and lost a work colleague and friend to suicide. He says:
"My colleague taking his own life had a devastating effect upon me at a time when I was coming to terms with my own mental health, but this also spurred me on to help others who are suffering silently. At work I often take on more than time permits, which inevitably takes its toll and ultimately ends up with my own mental health deteriorating. The pressures of cutbacks and ever increasing workloads are not only physically but mentally exhausting not just for me but lots of people like me working in public services especially within the Emergency Services."

"Being involved with the Blue Light Programme has also given me some solace. Knowing that I’m helping others in itself makes me feel good - a sense of achievement. There is no shame or stigma attached to experiencing mental health problems, it’s just the same as breaking a bone except no one can see that you are suffering. We are not super humans and we are just as prone to illness as anyone else if not more."

A huge 86% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that there needs to be more emotional support made available to emergency services personnel, while a similar proportion (87%) believed that there needs to be more investment in promoting good mental health among emergency services staff and volunteers.

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