Frontline workers at ‘high risk of mental health disorders’ according to 18-month study into emergency services wellbeing

An 18-month long study has highlighted a mental health crisis amongst UK emergency services staff.

Since March 2020, 87%, the mental wellbeing ecosystem, has tracked the data of over 10,000 frontline workers, assessing the extent to which the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic have taken their toll on the mental health of an already highly-pressurised sector.

87%’s study, The State of Mental Wellbeing on the Frontline, reveals that 40% of frontline workers are at high risk of mental health disorders. Nearly half (49%) of staff have been distressed by unwanted images or memories and 10% have had suicidal thoughts since the start of the pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, 87% has worked closely with frontline organisations with funding and support from the Aviva Foundation. Data from staff highlights how occupational stressors have been substantial and how areas of wellbeing that include work life, psychological health and physical health have been impacted.

The risk of burnout is stark across the sector, with 60% of staff experiencing chronically poor work-life balance. They are twice as likely to be suffering from symptoms of anxiety and depression and significantly more likely to suffer from social isolation and poor sleep.

This lack of balance also affects physical health, with almost two thirds (63%) of emergency workers saying that their job prevents them from being physically fit and active, while 40% report that their job often makes them feel ill. A third of staff are having difficulties with focus and concentration.

Fortunately, there was also robust evidence of a number of wellbeing strengths across the sector, with 92% of frontline staff expressing pride in the work that they do and 90% saying that they enjoy finding solutions to new problems. 85% believe that there is a positive side to everyday challenges, demonstrating a positive mindset that can be used to address wellbeing challenges in other areas.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Dame Clare Gerada MBE, Medical Director of Practitioner Health and former Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, says, “Within the NHS workforce, many report feeling defeated by work and these challenges are still unaddressed. Now is the time to normalise rather than catastrophise this sector’s distress, and reduce the burden of mental illness on those who care for us. Every member of this workforce should be given support and we must make easy access to services a priority. This report is timely and adds to the evidence that a real and genuine focus on the mental health and wellbeing of this sector will have a positive impact for the national health service.”

87% Clinical Director, Dr Serra Pitts, an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, adds, “There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health, but employers can significantly improve the wellbeing of the frontline sector by having proactive policies that help to maintain work-life balance, access to wellbeing resources and expert-delivered training to equip leadership with the skills to understand the wellbeing challenges of their workforce.

“Crucially, technology can play a part in accurately measuring the mental fitness of workers and driving insights on the most effective wellbeing strategies for organisations. Tailored to their employees’ needs, these can significantly reduce the risk of mental health difficulties and help organisations thrive.”

87% facilitates these insights with an innovative technology that measures mental fitness, informing strategic programming and expert-led training in workplace mental wellbeing best practice that can lead to positive change for organisations across the frontline sector.

According to a recent report by Deloitte, for every £1 invested in preventative, organisation-wide wellbeing initiatives, the organisation gets £6 in return, with benefits of wellbeing investment including lower rates of burnout, fewer absences and improved staff retention. By measuring and analysing mental wellbeing and organisational KPIs over time, 87% can tailor wellbeing training and policy solutions to provide return on investment for organisations across sectors.