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The Fire Service & Mental Health

Mental health-related illness within the fire service is escalating. Recent reports indicate that the number of firefighters within the UK being forced to take time off with enduring mental health problems has risen by almost one third since 2012. This number is even higher in the London area, where the number of staff taking time out directly as a result of mental illness has doubled.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a major factor in this debate. When individuals are faced with distressing and traumatic experiences but do not have appropriate outlets to deal with the emotional strain placed upon them, PTSD can take hold. It’s an extreme anxiety problem that can leave victims vulnerable to vivid flashbacks, nightmares, extreme guilt and a sense of isolation. However, the risk of PTSD and other similar disorders can be reduced with the provision of high-quality counselling and psychological support services.

Unsurprisingly, it is not just the firefighters who suffer as a result of mental illness. Families and children are often well aware of the changes in their loved one. Whilst not directly targeted, it stands to reason that worried friends and family tend to be the ones dealing with erratic moods, insomnia and other symptoms that may present themselves.

With increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD and other mental health problems, firefighters who are not provided with the support they require are at an increased risk of mental health problems. Individuals struggling with such issues are more likely to experience relationship breakdowns, financial management difficulties and drug and alcohol problems. Providing robust support services and encouraging those affected to access those services is vital if progress is to be made in addressing the issues at hand.

The recent events at Grenfell Tower are a prime example of what firefighters must deal with. Unfortunately, there is no rule book to teach people how to overcome dealing with tragedy on a daily basis. Add to this the stigmas that are so often attached to mental health problems and it is perhaps no wonder the numbers of people dealing with mental illness in the fire service is increasing.

Fortunately, the Home Office has acknowledged the extent of the problem and have stated their intentions to provide increased protection to the psychological health of front-line fire service staff. Working alongside the mental health charity Mind, the government have provided an additional £1.5 million to support the Blue Light Programme, which is specifically designed to assist emergency service workers who are impacted by mental health problems.