Rushing to put out a fire. Breaking up a brawl. Resuscitating someone on the street. If you were asked which of these scenarios was the most stress-inducing, you’d find it difficult to choose between them.
It’s no wonder, then, that the UK emergency services are among the most stressful sectors to work for. Add a pandemic to an already challenging working environment and stress levels are only ever going to get worse.
New research from Mind reports 69% of emergency responders feel their mental health has deteriorated since the start of the pandemic. The impact to ambulance workers was even higher, standing at 77%.
The report highlights a genuine concern for the long-term effect of COVID-19 and the growing likelihood of burnout and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) further down the road.
Mind surveyed 3,812 people working or volunteering across the three sectors:
A quarter of those surveyed said their current mental health was either ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.
The causes have been widespread and varied in their level of impact. Some we’ve sadly come to expect such as unmanageable workloads and increased exposure to traumatic events. But the ones that have caused the most worry for workers are those more directly linked to the pandemic.
That includes not being able to see family and friends, being pre-occupied with passing on the virus to loved ones, and also feeling anxious about getting the virus themselves.
The report does seem to suggest the conversation around mental health in the emergency services is moving in the right direction though – people are generally more confident about speaking out when they’re struggling.
However, only 35% of people believe their organisation has prioritised mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic. And as a result, the disconnect between senior staff and those working on the frontline has worsened.
There are still those cultural barriers stopping blue light workers asking for help when they most need it. They’re worried about what they say staying confidential and whether it will have a negative impact on their career.
Public sector organisations aren’t necessarily to blame for these problems. However, by being aware of the heightened risk posed to their employees, they can help to mitigate stress and help their staff feel better.
Consultation is an important part of this process. If employees don’t have a natural avenue to express their feelings, their stress is far more likely to go unchecked, increasing the chances of poor morale and people eventually resigning from their post.
Showing staff that you’re listening to their concerns can go a long way to making them feel supported. Organisations who expect their employees to persevere, without demonstrating understanding or empathy, risk creating an alienating, impersonal atmosphere.
Establishing a workplace culture where people can talk freely about mental health issues is important. Although the problem of stress is a very difficult one for our emergency services to address, ignoring the problem is far worse for all involved.
If public sector bodies can support their staff effectively, their frontline staff can get on with what really matters: putting out fires, preventing violence, saving lives.
The Blue Light Programme provides high-quality mental health resources and training for emergency workers.
Launched in 2015, the initiative was set up to reduce stigma, promote wellbeing and improve mental health support for those working or volunteering within the emergency services.
The programme has just been given further funding from The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Coronavirus Response Fund and will continue to be a valuable support service for emergency workers for many years to come.
Visit Mind’s website above to learn more.
Published date: 23rd August 2021
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