Frontline workers are exhausted and are at high risk of severe mental health disorders, finds an 18-month study into emergency service wellbeing.
Content warning: this article briefly mentions suicidal thoughts.
The extensive study complied by mental health digital platform 87% has highlighted the mental health crisis in the industry. Since March 2020, the study tracked the data of over 10,000 frontline workers assessing the extent to which the Covid-19 mental health crisis has taken its toll on the mental health of an already high-pressured sector.
The report found that the majority of frontline workers are proud of the work they do and meet the key markers for resilience, such as being highly adaptive and face challenges proactively. However, key findings from the report revealed the enormous pressure that frontline workers have been under.
Concerning figures include:
- 10% of staff have recently had suicidal thoughts.
- 45% have felt panic or terror.
- 49% have been distressed by unwanted images and memories.
- 61% feel tired most of the time.
- 33% have difficulties concentrating.
- 32% report regular symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- 40% are at risk of developing mental health disorders.
- 49% say their work commitments are out of control.
- 39% report that they are regularly frustrated by their work.
Chronic stress, fatigue, and burnout felt across the health profession
The risk of burnout is stark across the sector, with 60% of staff experiencing a chronically poor work-life balance, especially paramedics and emergency nurses and physicians. The study's researchers wrote that the impact of this poor work-life balance is a serious health risk' due to the potential development of conditions such as chronic stress, a precursor to burnout.
The severe physical and psychological health risk to frontline workers was reflected by 65% responding that their job made it difficult to get to sleep, 63% said their job prevents them from being physically fit and healthy, and 53% said their job pressure makes it difficult to relax.
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Dame Clare Gerada, medical director of NHS Practitioner Health, said of the findings of the report: "Within the NHS workforce, many report feeling defeated by work, and these challenges are still unaddressed. Now is the time to normalise rather than catastrophise this sector's distress and reduce the burden of mental illness on those who care for us.”
“Every member of this workforce should be given support, and we must make easy access to services a priority. This report is timely and adds to the evidence that a real and genuine focus on the mental health and wellbeing of this sector will have a positive impact for the national health service."
Digital solutions have the potential to give employers “insights on the most effective wellbeing strategies”
Doctor Serra Pitts, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and 87%’s clinical director, added: “Employers can significantly improve the wellbeing of the frontline sector by having proactive policies that help to maintain work-life balance, access to wellbeing resources and expert-delivered training to equip leadership with the skills to understand the wellbeing challenges of their workforce.”
“Crucially, technology [such as the 87% platform] can play a part in accurately measuring the mental fitness of workers and driving insights on the most effective wellbeing strategies for organisations. Tailored to their employees’ needs, these can significantly reduce the risk of mental health difficulties and help organisations thrive.”
87% has been working with, and have been supporting the mental health of, emergency services professionals throughout the pandemic. A spokesperson for the platform said that the data from their study is being used to "give individuals and employers the tools that are clinically proven to improve their mental wellbeing".
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