dupontnomex1Mental health awareness and promotion training in the Fire Service can help tackle the issue of heightened risk of stress, according to new research.

The study, ‘Promoting Well-being and Reducing Stigma about Mental Health in the Fire Service’, published in the Journal of Mental Health, revealed the positive impact that awareness training has on staff’s knowledge about poor mental health – an issue that affects 20% of the UK’s workforce. The study also revealed a significant improvement in attitude towards this issue.

The research was developed by Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust Community Psychology Service and funded by Public Health, Northumberland County Council (formerly Northumberland Care Trust) in 2010. In the study, 106 Fire Service line managers were randomly allocated to one of three training conditions, 89 of whom completed pre- and post-study questionnaires. The individuals who attended either of two mental health training and promotion courses, compared to those who were given an information leaflet and one hour Q&A session, reported a statistically significant improvement in attitude to mental health problems and increased ability and confidence to help someone experiencing one.

The study included two training programmes to compare with the control condition – a leaflet and Q&A session (LS). The ‘Looking After Wellbeing at Work (LWW)’ course is a locally designed programme, developed and delivered with mental health service users and volunteers, that acknowledges the pressures associated with mental health problems and that it is “normal to be different”. It has since been used with teachers and mental health nursing staff and has been shown to be consistently effective in positively influencing attitudes to mental health problems and knowledge and efficacy about mental health.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an internationally recognised training course. MHFA England has trained 70,000 people and has worked with many large employers to deliver mental health awareness training within the workplace. MHFA is the mental health equivalent of physical first aid training and provides participants with the skills and confidence to give to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and effectively guide a person towards the right support services.

Changing attitudes
Key findings of the study include:
• Two particular themes were identified from the qualitative interviews: 1) participants described they were more able to recognise and respond to signs of mental health problems and to help their friends and colleagues, 2) participants described changing attitudes towards mental health issues and reported being more open-minded and less judgemental. In contrast, the LS did not produce significant changes in attitude or knowledge
• The quantitative and qualitative evaluations suggest that the MHFA and LWW courses are appropriate to address the issues around stress in the Fire Service and promote the understanding of workplace influences on stress, increased the awareness of how colleagues and managers can help, and promoted more positive approaches to mental health.

The research was led by NTW’s Northumberland Community Psychology Service: Jenna Moffitt, Clinical Psychologist, now at James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough; Jan Bostock, Clinical Psychologist, NTW Psychological Services, St George’s Park, Morpeth and Ashley Cave, Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner, Sunderland Primary Care and IAPT Service, Sunderland.

“Workplace stress had been identified as a particular issue in the Fire Service nationally, relating to excessive demands, relationships with senior managers, the changing role of the Service and exposure to traumatic events,” Bostock said. ”While support is offered to fire fighters to help them cope with traumatic events, this does not encompass support relating to stress linked with organisational factors or the associated negative judgements in reporting a mental health issue.

“We thought that developing and evaluating mental health promotion initiatives with Fire Service staff would increase our understanding of effective interventions to reduce negative attitudes around mental health, and lead to a greater awareness of how to prevent mental health problems and the use of appropriate help should this be required.”  

Positive impact
Poppy Jaman, MFHA England’s CEO, added: “We are encouraged by the findings this study into mental health promotion in the Fire Service because it supports our view that awareness training has a hugely positive impact on how mental ill health is dealt with in the workplace. In the past year we have seen a dramatic increase in the number and range of organisations, including the Fire Service and Police, all seeking solutions to the increasing issue of mental ill health in the workplace.
“It is through good quality, specifically tailored training that we are able to help employers raise awareness of mental health across their organisations and lift the stigma that has been long associated with mental ill health. We look forward to working with other regions in the Fire Service, all of which could benefit from introducing MHFA training into their organisations and teams.”

For more information on this story visit