Mental health survey reveals heightened suicide risk of emergency services workers

More than a quarter of emergency services workers have thought about taking their own lives, research has revealed.

The data from mental health charity Mind shows the high occurrence of suicidal thoughts among “blue light” staff and volunteers in England and Wales.

An online poll found that 27% of the 1,641 emergency services staff and volunteers questioned had contemplated taking their own lives due to stress and poor mental health while working.

Nearly two thirds (63%) had considered leaving their roles in the police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue services for the same reasons.

The results also revealed that 92% of respondents had experienced stress, low mood and poor mental health at some point while working for the emergency services.

Mental health problems – such as depression, anxiety disorder, OCD, PTSD, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia – were experienced by 62% of people while working in their current or previous blue light role.

Over the past year Mind has been providing support for emergency services staff and volunteers through its Blue Light Programme.

Programme manager, Faye McGuinness, said the statistics were “shocking” and called for more to be done to support emergency workers.

She added: “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.”

She acknowledged that it would not be possible to change working cultures overnight and said there was the need for “an ongoing commitment to prioritising the emotional well-being of emergency services workers”.

Esmail Rifai, 50, from Blackburn, who works for North West Ambulance Service, recently returned to work following a long period of illness – work related anxiety and depression. He also lost a work colleague and friend to suicide.

Mr Rifai said: “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.”

He added that his involvement in the Blue Light Programme had given him some solace.

“We are not super humans and we are just as prone to illness as anyone else if not more,” he concluded.

Of those polled, 86% agreed or strongly agreed that more emotional support needs to be made available to emergency services personnel.

Despite the high prevalence of mental health problems, the survey revealed that only 48% of respondents had taken time off work due to stress, low mood or poor mental health.

Mind believes the results could indicate there is still a taboo around talking about these issues and a determination to continue going into work even when unwell.

Che Donald, mental health lead at the Police Federation of England and Wales, said the programme had been filling the void in services available to officers.

But he said that more still needed to be spent to support emergency services workers.

“Police forces have a duty of care to their officers, however with their budgets severely slashed, the bill for mental health care provision too often ends up unpaid,” he concluded.

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