Mental health of emergency responders worsened by pandemic

Data from a survey of almost 4,000 staff and volunteers across police, fire and ambulance services in the UK has laid bare the scale of poor mental health among emergency responders.

The online survey found that mental health has worsened across 999 services, but that ambulance staff were worst affected.

Only one in four ambulance staff reported their current mental health as very good or good compared to just over one in three police and almost two in five survey respondents working within the fire service.

Ambulance staff were the most likely (77%) to say their mental health has worsened since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, compared to police (66%) or fire (65%).

One in four 999 staff and volunteers surveyed rated their current mental health as poor or very poor. The highest proportion of respondents saying they had poor mental health were within the ambulance service, at almost one in three.

This compares to just under one in four respondents from the police service and one in five (20 per cent) within the fire service who rated their mental health as poor currently.

Ben Hawkins,22, an emergency dispatcher for the East of England Ambulance Service said: ‘At work, I’m a happy, cheery person, but I do struggle with my mental health.

‘Blue Light staff get sad too and the last year has been especially tough. Christmas Day was especially bad, it was absolutely heart-breaking. For a good few months, it felt like it was just suicide and Covid deaths, all the time.

‘Ambulance staff have been fighting a mental health pandemic as well as dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. As well as dealing with traumatic events, we often get abuse on the phone, even death threats.

‘We’re exposed to people’s most horrific hours of their entire lives. It’s a privilege to know in some small way that we have helped but it is tough too.’

The survey results come as Mind announces the relaunch of their Blue Light Programme of wellbeing support for the emergency services, which has been funded by The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Responding to Mind’s survey data, Anna Parry, deputy managing director at the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) said: ‘Healthy ambulance staff are integral to the services we provide to patients which is why the data emanating from the Mind survey is particularly worrying.

‘However, with demand for ambulance services at its highest ever level, alongside the additional unique demands of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is perhaps unsurprising that our front-line staff are experiencing pressures that are impacting upon their mental health and this is something the sector is working hard to mitigate.

‘Promoting safe and healthy working environments for all ambulance staff, as well as volunteers, is a key national strategic aim for AACE and we are working with our members to ensure that progressive employment policies are in place that are designed to assist the creation of a good work-life balance and, in turn, help support staff who suffer from stress-related illness, be it work or non-work related.

‘Wellbeing support is offered to all ambulance service staff and volunteers at both local and national levels.

‘A primary focus for us is working with Mind and other partners to ensure the suitability and effectiveness of existing support whilst enhancing understanding and awareness of employee mental health and wellbeing and the range of supports available.

‘We very much welcome the opportunity to continue this work with Mind as part of their Blue Light Programme.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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