Emergency service workers are at a higher risk of experiencing a mental health problem. They are the least likely to seek support.
The Charity Mind conducted a survey which revealed that 9 in 10 (87 per cent) of emergency service staff and volunteers have suffered stress, low mood or poor mental health at some point.
Northumbria Police Assistant Chief Constable Darren Best is the force’s ambassador for the Blue Light Programme – delivered by Mind to provide mental health support for emergency services staff and volunteers from police, search and rescue, fire and ambulance services across England.
ACC Best said: “We have made a huge investment in wellbeing and it is very much a priority for us. Our staff deal with difficult and challenging situations on a daily basis and it is only natural this will have an affect on wellbeing. We want to make sure our workforce is supported and have the best possible support at their fingertips.
“Sadly some stigma surrounding mental health still exists. The nature of our job means a lot of our staff may need some form of support during their career. That is nothing to be ashamed of and we should not be afraid of talking about it.
“We work closely with the Blue Light Programme ensuring our staff have specialist support, we have Blue Light Champions across the organisation who are there to talk providing staff with the opportunity to speak with someone in confidence about what they are experiencing.
“Every champion has received specialist training to help support officers and staff when they need it.
“Creating lasting change in our approach to wellbeing is important to us. That is why we’re publicly offering our support to Time to Talk Day, being open about mental health and being ready to listen can make a positive difference to someone’s life.
“On Thursday, we will be encouraging our staff it is Time to Talk.”
Northumbria Police have released some steps to help officers.
– Mindful Meditation Sessions have been held across the organisation by staff trained in mindful meditation techniques and as part of World Mental Health Day last October we worked in partnership with the NHS on their campaign #PeoplenotPlasters to show support for those facing mental health difficulties.
– Northumbria Police is leading on setting up a regional Blue Light Choir, in partnership between Sage Gateshead, NEMind, and the regional emergency services, after numerous research projects identified the benefits of singing on wellbeing.
– Regular wellbeing events, supported by charities and organisations who focus on health and wellbeing. The events provide advice and guidance to the workforce as well as opportunities to sample some of the services they can provide for staff.
– Appointing a Wellbeing and Engagement Manager.
A police officer serving in the North East has opened up about mental health in a bid to get colleagues to talk about the strains of the job.
PC Karl Peterson was 40 years old when he joined Northumbria Police as a response officer – full of excitement at the potential of a future career protecting the people working and living in the North East.
He was posted to Southern Area Command where he thrived alongside the rest of his shift but seven years into his service the constant strain of dealing with blue light calls began to take its toll.
It wasn’t until he sought the help of Northumbria’s Occupational Health Unit (OHU) that he was able to get professional help from a counsellor and return to work as a Neighbourhood Beat Manager in South Tyneside.
Now Karl has made the brave decision to share his experience to try and encourage other members of the emergency services to seek support for any mental health issues they may experience.
He been appointed as one of Northumbria Police’s 30 Blue Light Champions who have received specialist training to recognise the signs of poor mental health in their colleagues and offer advice to those who need it.
Karl, who works in Hebburn and Jarrow Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: “When I joined the police I felt alive with excitement and what the future held for me. I could not wait to get to work whatever shift I was on.
“But after a few years things slowly started to change. I felt like I was on an iceberg and it was slowly starting to melt. Eventually, after I had tried to patch it up a dozen or so times, I was left standing on a ice cube slipping into the water.
“I was nearly 50 and I was becoming very tired, I wasn’t sleeping, I was having arguments at home, arguments with supervision and I turned to drinking. I realised I had nothing more to give and little fuel in the tank to continue.
“The final straw was at the beginning of one night shift when my collar number was called on the radio. I started to shake, my heartbeat increased and I began sweating. At this point I knew I could not continue.
“I went to OHU and actually broke down. I realised I needed professional help and my turning point was when I fully engaged with a counsellor during one-to-one sessions. They helped me steady myself and eventually I returned to the station.
“We have excellent facilities at Northumbria Police and both the response and professional manner of the force’s OHU is what prevented me from leaving the job I strived so hard to get in the first place.
“Now I want to give something back by becoming a Blue Light Champion and giving my colleagues the peer support that was not available to me when I was at my lowest point.”