suicideMore than one in four people who work in the emergency services have had suicidal thoughts due to stress and poor mental health, according to a new survey.

An online survey of 1,641 emergency services staff and volunteers for mental health charity Mind also found that 63% had contemplated leaving their job or voluntary role because of stress or poor mental health.

The online survey of more than 1,600 staff and volunteers from police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue services also showed that 92% of respondents had experienced stress, low mood and poor mental health at some point while working for the emergency services, while 62% said they had experienced a mental health problem – such as depression, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia – while working or volunteering in their current or previous Blue Light role. 

Despite the high prevalence of mental health problems, only 48% said they had taken time off work due to stress, low mood or poor mental health. In addition, 46% 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 also said that, while working for the emergency services:

41% had been prescribed medication (such as antidepressants, sleeping tablets etc.) due to stress and poor mental health

5% had made an attempt to take their own life due to stress and poor mental health

55% had sought medical help due to stress and poor mental health

6% had been admitted to hospital due to stress and poor mental health.

The vast majority of respondents (86%) agreed or strongly agreed that there needs to be more emotional support made available to emergency services personnel, while 87% believed that there needs to be more investment in promoting good mental health among emergency services staff and volunteers.

For the past year Mind has been delivering a major programme of support for emergency services staff and volunteers. Since March 2015, through its ‘Blue Light Programme’ 300,000 information resources have been disseminated, more than 5,000 managers have participated in line manager training, some 440 emergency service staff have registered to be ‘Blue Light Champions’, and 54 Blue Light employers and 9 national associations have signed 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.

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.  

“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’re trying to secure more government funding to support the emotional wellbeing of 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.”