20 April 2016
Worrying data from the mental health charity 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 per cent) 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 per cent) 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 per cent) respondents had experienced stress, low mood and poor mental health at some point while working for the emergency services, while a staggering 62 per cent 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’, and 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 per cent) had taken time off work due to stress, low mood or poor mental health. In addition, nearly half (46 per cent) 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 per cent) had been prescribed medication (such as antidepressants, sleeping tablets etc.) due to stress and poor mental health
- Five per cent had made an actual attempt to take their own life due to stress and poor mental health
- Over half (55 per cent) had sought medical help due to stress and poor mental health
- Six per cent 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 urge the Government to commit to injecting more funding in emotional wellbeing support for 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 per cent 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 per cent) believed that there needs to be more investment in promoting good mental health among emergency services staff and volunteers.
Notes to Editors:
Case studies and spokespeople are available for interview. Please phone Mind’s media team on 0208 522 1743 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- We’re Mind, the mental health charity. We provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. We campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. We won’t give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets both support and respect. www.mind.org.uk
- Please note that Mind is not an acronym and should be set in title case.
- Mind has a confidential information and support line, Mind Infoline, available on 0300 123 3393 (lines open 9am–6pm, Monday–Friday)
About the Blue Light Programme:
- In November 2014, Mind was awarded LIBOR funding to develop and deliver the Blue Light Programme — a major new year-long programme of support for emergency services staff and volunteers.
- Since the Programme launched in March 2015, we have been providing mental health support for emergency services staff and volunteers from police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue services across England.
- Beyond March 2016, funds have been allocated for Mind to continue to deliver the Programme on a smaller scale throughout 2016/17.
- The results of a comprehensive evaluation of the Programme will be available in May 2016.
- The programme was developed in consultation with emergency service staff and volunteers and involving local Minds and professional bodies, employers, charities and unions that represent emergency services staff and volunteers.
- The Blue Light Programme focuses on five main areas:
- Tackling stigma and discrimination — based on the Time to Change model including social media campaigns and work with employers to tackle stigma and discrimination at an organisational level.
- Embedding workplace wellbeing — a bespoke mental health training programme for managers, staff and volunteers.
- Building resilience — a pilot approach to building the mental health resilience of emergency services staff and volunteers.
- Providing information and support — a bespoke mental health information service for emergency services staff and volunteers, their family and friends; this is likely to include a clinical intervention pilot to look at the best way to provide access to more specialist clinical mental health support.
- Improving Support Pathways — training a cohort of Blue Light Champions to become peer supporters and commissioning the delivery of four pilot Blue Light Mental Health Networks to improve pathways to mental health support for Blue Light personnel.
1 Mind, February 2016, online survey of 1,641 emergency services staff and volunteers (published in March 2016)