To coincide with National Emergency Services Day (999 Day), Healthwatch Essex is launching a report which gives a unique insight into the mental health of frontline workers across the county.
The participants of the study were drawn from Essex Police, British Transport Police based in Essex, the East of England Ambulance Service and hospital staff drawn from operating theatres and the burns unit.
The report, which was the result of engagement prior to COVID-19, focusses on a number of case studies in which workers from frontline environments discuss their mental health and the support available to them. Around a third of participants admitted to dealing with, or having experienced, work-related stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and PTSD, including while on duty.
One paramedic told us: “On at least two occasions, I’ve driven out there and I’ve just looked at that pillar and thought, I could just drive into that and it will all be over”, whilst a police officer who had been repeatedly investigated by his own organisation, and subsequently left policing, said: “I remember just sitting there thinking… I’m just going to go and run over in front of all that traffic on the M11. Because that will be it… then all this goes away.”
There were common triggers for poor mental health with paramedics and BTP officers describing traumatic incidents as the main trigger. Police officers told us that their heavy workloads and lack of resources had caused them stress and anxiety and the hospital staff’s long hours and lack of breaks had caused fatigue and exhaustion which influenced their well-being. More than half of the participants revealed that they don’t have any refreshment break at all during their shift.
The findings reveal that mental health provision across the organisations varied, and many experienced barriers to accessing it, ranging from a lack of information about what was available, through to an organisational culture that would prevent people from seeking support. 57% of participants said they felt there was a stigma attached to mental health in their workplace.
A member of police staff told us: “It got to the point where I was self-harming. I didn’t tell them because I know the major stigma that comes behind people that self-harm; it’s ‘she can’t be trusted’, you’re going to do something dangerous.”
Staff described how they would prefer calling in with a physical health problem rather than attributing it to their mental health. 41% of participants said they would use poor physical health as a strategy to cover their poor mental health at work.
Chief Executive of Healthwatch Essex, Sam Glover, said: Never more so than now, do people recognise the environments that our frontline workers place themselves in to keep us safe and well.
This report, which is the result of engagement before the pandemic, shows that there are still some significant issues in relation to the mental health of our frontline workers in Essex.
We believe that Mental Health First Aid training should become mandatory for all frontline service staff and that management should make sure that statutory refreshment breaks are being taken, especially by those staff who undertake work shifts lasting up to 12 hours. Without appropriate breaks, staff, understandably, do not feel as though they are making their best decisions, as they are often hungry and dehydrated, as well as tired.
Lots has been done to encourage open conversations about mental health within these organisations and mental health support has been made available, but this report makes a number of recommendations about how life could be improved for frontline workers across Essex. We hope this insight, based on real stories of our police, paramedics and hospital staff, helps to inform meaningful change.”
You can read the full report here.