Today sees the formal launch in London of the Blue Light Project, led by Mind and it has been a real privilege that they asked me to be a small part of their external advisory board, contributing to the development of the project which uses £4m of LIBOR money (fines levied on banks for manipulating financial markets) to support the mental health and wellbeing of our 999 emergency services personnel.
First, I’d ask you to watch this video from Time to Change —
AIMS OF THE PROJECT
You need to have a think about this if you haven’t already – we ask very ordinary men and women to deal with some very extraordinary things. Some of the most difficult, harrowing and devastating things that happen in society, often running torwards the danger the rest of us are fleeing and often improvising through problems we hadn’t planned for or trained for. Many of the situations our emergency service personnel are dealing with arise from failures by others to take reasonable or necessary steps that would have prevented those situations from occuring in the first place – in that sense there is a futility to much of what we ask them to do. They do these jobs having made a choice, of course – and they are trained for their role, but training does not and cannot cover everything. It certainly can’t always prepare you for your reaction to the things you experience or how you manage such a demanding job alongside the rest of life on earth with all of its tribulations.
Training certainly didn’t prepare me for the stress of working in an organisation like the police – for what it would feel like to watch a man with serious mental health problems burn to death after he set himself on fire in front of me; or to watch another man bleed to death in my arms after he’d been stabbed by his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend with her right next to us both pleading for me to save his life and me knowing I couldn’t. I could go on but I won’t because there’s nothing special about my list: every police officer, every paramedic and every firefighter has their list, in addition to our colleagues from search and rescue.
Forgive me for any over focus on the police: it’s simply what I know best — suicide disporportionately affects men who account for 75% of such deaths and policing is still, numerically speaking, a male dominated occupation. High risk groups for suicide are known to be men in early adulthood and men in the 40-50 age bracket. We also know that policing, in addition to the other emergency services, is a high risk occupation with higher than average levels of clinically significant distress. Only this week we read about the suicide of Craig PLEDGER – a young police officer who played rugby for his force and who was found dead near his family home in Cornwall after battling depression for some years. A totally tragic loss and my heart goes out to Craig’s family and colleagues. In the last week I have given several presentations on policing and mental health to police audiences as part of my role at the College of Policing. Without exception, the questions that followed were focussed on internal, staff wellbeing related questions. There is huge appetite for the things that this project aims to achieve so I want emergency services personnel to hunk about what they can add to this, individually.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Ask your local senior managers if your organisation is signed up to the Time to Change pledge, about which Chief Constable Simon COLE (Leicestershire) spoke at the project launch, this morning. Speak to your staff association about their support for the project – internal relationships between officers, line managers and local managers are key to setting organisational cultures which foster positive environments and we know that 999 staff who lose days at work to mental and psychological problems cite their relationship with the manager as being at least a part of the problem – it’s not all about the work we do, it can be about the place we work.
Line managers can make sure they take time to talk about the stress of the role, to understand the lives of staff they manage and pressures they can be under outside work that may affect them. It’s like Time to Change highlighted on the #TimetoTalk day in February – 5 minutes spent discussing something early can create the environment people need to raise problems. Finally, something that really stuck with me after listening to a police officer who had time off work with depression: her sergeant had assumed that because she was depressed and experiencing stress related pressure, time off work meant that she needed a complete break from things and he directed her colleagues to give her some space whilst she was off. The isolation that inflicted upon her, without colleagues texting or asking if she fancied meeting for a coffee, compounded her problems and made things more difficult.
So none of us should feel entitled to assume what we think other people might want or need: it’s Time to Talk about who is supporting and caring for those who spend their lives supporting and caring for us when we most urgently need it.
Please support this project and raise awareness of it in any way that you can.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.