The shocking truth behind our blue light services

The ‘blue light’ services are typically our emergency services. This includes ambulance workers, police, firefighters and search and rescue services. According to research conducted by ‘Mind’, emergency services are at a higher risk of going through a mental health problem than the general public. Most would think that this is due to the traumatic events that people in this field may experience. This is not always the case. It is suggested that workload and pressures from management tend to trigger poor mental health over trauma. With 9 out of 10 emergency service staff and volunteers in England had experienced stress, low mood or poor mental health at some point in their careers, it is crucial that something is done about this.

Those in the blue light services are the people who help us when we are in need, the people who save lives. It is upsetting to think they may sometimes find it difficult to save their own. For example, 30% of firefighters had contemplated taking their own lives due to stress and poor mental health whilst working for the fire services. So what exactly is being done about this? Obviously, there is support that each employer would offer yet 79% of respondents from a conducted survey said they would ‘never’ seek help from HR if they experienced a mental health problem. Alternatively, those within the emergency services suggest that the support given following a traumatic event is positive however there is little additional support provided for the ‘drip drip’ effect. In fact, 82% of firefighters agreed or strongly agreed that there needs to be more emotional support made available to emergency services personnel

Just less than half of the blue light services that were surveyed (44%) thought their colleagues would be treated differently (in a negative way) if they said that they had a mental health problem at work. This just shows the large amounts of stigma or expected stigma within this field of work. This is surprising given that those in the emergency services would have seen a lot, gained more empathy and have a better understanding of what can happen within day-to-day life. Talking about mental health is not overly encouraged within the emergency service sector with 71% of emergency service staff thinking that their organisation did not encourage them to talk about mental health – this was much worse than the general workforce population.  

According to research conducted by ‘Mind’, the research suggests that the following factors are triggers of poor mental health for people in the ambulance service: 

  • Repeated exposure to traumatic events

  • High workload pressures

  • Long working hours

  • Lone working shift work

  • Dealing with people who may be physically or verbally abusive

So whilst measures are being taken to improve the support those in the blue light sector receive regarding mental health, is there anything individuals can do to ensure their family member or friend within the service is remaining relatively healthy in terms of mental health? Obviously, stress is part of the job, yet being overly stressed is going to impact not only mental health but also ability to complete tasks to a high standard. Which in this case, is quite literally a matter of life and death!

Help your loved ones come to terms with whether they are stressed more than usual. Most of the time, people won’t notice that they are displaying signs of stress and so it is difficult to identify yourself that you are going through more stress than is healthy. Some signs to look out for include trouble sleeping, irritability, drinking more than usual, participating in drug-use, physical pain and anxiety. If somebody you know is displaying symptoms of stress, speak to them without judgement and ask if there is any way that you can help.

Encourage them to look after their body and physical health. It is common that by looking after our physical body, we are looking after our minds. Encourage a balanced diet, 8 hours of sleep, plenty of water and exercise. Suggest doing some fun, physical activities together such as hiking or doing the gardening.

Listen to how they are feeling. Just by showing that you are there and ready to listen can allow somebody to express themselves, getting the negative feelings out and in turn, allow a weight to be lifted.

Help them identify their triggers and practise relaxation techniques. Ask your loved one about their day and if they become more hostile or closed off speaking about a certain event or issue, this is most likely the trigger for their stress and should be prevented if possible. It is a good idea for them to keep a journal of anything that has stressed them out during the day to find ways around allowing this to become a reoccurring thing. If your loved one is particularly stressed, it is essential for them to relax during the time they are home. There are numerous relaxation techniques, most being guided through web-based applications which are extremely beneficial.

Look after yourself. If you are constantly surrounded by somebody with poor mental well-being, it is likely that you will begin to feel relatively negative. Ensure you are staying healthy so you can continue to provide support and care if needed. Being calm, relaxed and positive can often allow others to pick this up.


Feel Stress Free offers a range of guided activities, using clinically proven techniques, to help prevent and build resilience to common mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and mild depression. Feel Stress Free was created and developed by UK leading psychologists and psychiatrists. If you are or know somebody who is currently struggling due to working in the emergency services, please get in touch through our social media - @thriveappsuk, for a free month trial.  

Sam GlassComment