People who work in the emergency services, including ambulance drivers and paramedics, face unique pressures including regular exposure to traumatic incidents and life-threatening emergencies. What they see on a daily basis, most people would not expect to see in a lifetime.
So it is not entirely surprising that, in a recent online poll carried out by Mind, nine out of 10 staff and volunteers from police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue services said they had experienced stress, low mood and poor mental health at some point. However, what was more worrying was the fact that in the same online survey, more than one in four had contemplated suicide – a sign that their mental health problems and stress levels had reached crisis point.
At Mind, we have reacted to this situation by delivering a Blue Light programme – a major programme of support for emergency services staff and volunteers. Since March 2015, we’ve been working hard to raise awareness and tackle stigma, as blue light workers are often reluctant to talk to their employers about mental health issues. Our study showed that emergency workers are much more likely to speak to a family member or friend than their manager or someone in HR. There is a perception that they have to be more resilient than the rest of us, but in fact, no one is immune to the consequences of stress. Organisations also want support to enable them to better listen, understand and help their staff and volunteers to deal with stresses on the job.
We are helping people to be more open about their health needs and teaching them strategies to cope with stressful situations as they arise. Understanding key triggers can help people respond to stress in a more positive way. We have also launched an information line for blue light workers and their friends and colleagues. People can speak to trained advisers completely confidentially and independently of their employer.
We are also happy to say that over 440 emergency service staff have so far registered to be Blue Light Champions, and have agreed to share their own experiences and encourage others to follow suit, while 5000 managers have participated in specialist line manager training. Over 50 Blue Light employers and nine national associations have signed the Blue Light Time to Change pledge, which is a commitment to raising awareness of mental health, tackling stigma and enabling staff to talk more openly about their mental health at work. They know that the consequences of not dealing with this issue can be serious, not least when it comes to employee retention. Our online poll showed that nearly two in three blue light workers had considered leaving their job or voluntary role because of stress or poor mental health.
We have had lots of positive feedback, but we know we have a long way to go. It can’t stop here. It is not possible to change working cultures overnight, particularly in these kinds of male-dominated ‘macho’ roles where staff and volunteers are meant to be able to deal with everything that the job throws at them, and don’t feel able to open up if they’re struggling with their mental health. Many emergency service organisations have committed to this agenda over the past 12-months and have made excellent progress, however, we need to see an ongoing commitment to prioritising the emotional wellbeing of emergency service workers to enable them to continue doing their vital work serving our community. But we can’t do this without more Government funding to support the emotional wellbeing of our Blue Light staff and volunteers. It’s so important we see greater investment and support 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.
You can find out more about the programme and the support available to both individuals and organisations at mind.org.uk/bluelight. Contact our confidential Infoline on 0300 303 5999 (local rates) [email protected] or text: 84999