Nearly nine out of 10 staff and volunteers experience stress, low mood and poor mental health at some point while working for the emergency services, according to survey findings.
The mental health charity Mind, which carried out the survey, branded its findings as “worrying”.
The charity compared the results of an online survey of over 3,500 emergency services personnel with separate findings on the general workforce from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
It revealed that 53% had experienced mental health problems at some point, compared to around 26% of the general workforce.
“There is a clear consensus that this is an issue that needs tackling”
Despite the greater prevalence of mental health problems among emergency staff, Mind’s research indicates they were less likely to take time off sick. Just 43% of emergency service workers said they had taken time off work due to poor mental health, compared to 57% of the general workforce.
Staff and volunteers in the emergency services have already been identified as at higher risk of developing a mental health problem, due to the unique set of difficulties these challenging roles present.
However, the survey data is the first to reveal the scale of the problem and the level of unmet need.
Mind has received £4m in funding to deliver a programme supporting “blue light” personnel with their mental health. The survey findings will be revealed today at the launch of the programme.
The Blue Light programme has been developed in consultation with emergency service staff and volunteers and will be delivered between April 2015 and March 2016. It will involve local Mind groups, professional bodies, employers, charities and unions.
Mind is also urging emergency services organisations to register their interest in signing the Blue Light Time to Change pledge – a commitment to develop action plans to support the wellbeing of their staff and volunteers.
“With initiatives like this we’re helping to drive a culture change so that one day we’ll see parity of esteem between physical and mental health”
Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said: “Not only are many of our blue light personnel struggling with their mental health, but they’re less likely to seek support or have time off sick than the general workforce.
“There is a clear consensus that this is an issue that needs tackling and it’s clear that the will is there to address it,” he said.
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said: “At the end of last year, we asked Mind to work with our emergency services personnel to develop and trial a new package of frontline mental health support. So I’m delighted that this programme is now underway.
“We still have a long way to go to break down the stigma around mental health but with initiatives like this we’re helping to drive a culture change so that one day we’ll see parity of esteem between physical and mental health,” he added.
Unison national officer Alan Lofthouse said: “These findings mirror our own and show how little has been done to help emergency workers cope with the pressure of the job.
“Of course working in emergency services is physically demanding and challenging, but the right type of support should be in place,” he said. “This is unfair on patients and unfair on workers.”
In January it emerged that a senior nurse at one of Wales’s busiest accident and emergency departments had described a weekend night shift as more stressful than working in a warzone.
The sister at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff said she had to make decisions “that put patients at risk and put staff under extreme pressure”.