Increase in the number of emergency workers taking mental health sick leave

Recent figures from 57 fire, police and ambulance services in the UK have indicated that there has been an increase in the number of workers who have taken sick leave due to mental health. 

Between 2014 and 2018 figures rose by a third, subsequently, workers have been urged to “seek help” after traumatic events.

The Government said it was funding support for workers to “counter the stigma” around mental health.

Fire and ambulance services reported an increase in the number of staff taking mental health-related absences such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and other stress, while police saw a slight drop in the last year after four years of rises.

Figures show that more than 5,000 police officers, serving with 29 out of the UK’s 48 forces, took time off sick for mental health reasons during 2018-19, compared with just over 4,300 in 2014-15.

Just over 2,700 ambulance staff took time off at nine of the UK’s 15 services in 2018-19, compared with just under 1,700 five years earlier.

Also, 837 firefighters took time off for mental health reasons at 19 out of the 49 services in the UK, compared with 608 in 2014-15.

In total, more than 365,000 working days were taken off by staff due to mental health in 2018-19 alone, according to figures for 56 out of 111 services that were able to provide that data, up from almost 247,000 in 2014-15.

Dr Jennifer Wild, a consultant clinical psychologist at the University of Oxford, said PTSD and depression were the “most common” mental health problems affecting emergency service staff.

Dr Wild said this was due to “repeated exposure to and the cumulative effects of trauma” combined with other stresses such as “long shifts and unsocial work hours”.

John Apter, Chairman of the Police Federation, said forces needed “investment” to reduce pressure on officers an allow those with mental health issues to receive “proper, tailored support”.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We have funded, and continue to invest in, several services and initiatives to support staff across all three emergency sectors.

“We are also working to counter the stigma around mental ill-health and encourage those who may need it to seek help and support.”

She said the Government had invested £7.5 million in a new National Police Wellbeing Service.

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