|MF&RS has historically been a male dominated Service and so to create the right conditions for positive mental health and wellbeing amongst our staff we have had to take a whole person approach. The Service has had to address the root causes of poor mental health in employees with the ultimate aim to empower staff to make informed choices around what support will be the most beneficial for them as an individual.|
The Service has proactively sought to challenge and change an embedded culture where mental ill health is not talked about and support is not actively sought. Previously this has led to staff turning to negative coping mechanisms such as alcohol, smoking and isolation.
In order to both challenge and change this culture, to encourage the mental health and wellbeing of our staff, MF&RS mental health leads have developed and embedded initiatives designed to help reduce stigma attached to mental ill health within the Service and to enable our staff to both speak more openly and access help and support as and when required. We remain committed to offering our staff just as much support for their mental health and wellbeing as we do for their physical health hence each year we continue to build and improve on our current psychological wellbeing initiatives.
Our Service stands out from others as many have not yet embarked on addressing these cultural issues within the emergency services, particularly to the extent that MF&RS have. As a result, we demonstrate leadership within the community of Merseyside; recognising that partner organisations follow our example to prioritise staff psychological wellbeing within their organisations, we have shared our work with Staffordshire Fire, Merseyside Police, the British red Cross, NHS England and the National Suicide Prevention Alliance to name a few.
Also by educating staff it will in turn assist them with their duties within the community, helping to break down the stigma and discrimination within the community by our Fire Service staff being open and willing to talk about mental ill health and share their experiences with others.
Some examples of how we have promoted the mental health and wellbeing of our workforce are:
Blue Light Champions and Mental Health First Aid
Mental ill health conditions have emerged nationally as the single biggest cause of long term absence from the workplace.
Mind’s blue light programme research conducted in Phase 1 of the national project stated that ‘85% of Fire and Rescue respondents said they had experienced stress or poor mental health whilst working for a blue light service’.
MF&RS has recognised this and been proactive in our approach of educating staff around mental health. We have been running Mental Health First Aid courses since 2009, these courses train employees to spot the early signs/symptoms of mental ill health among their colleagues and signpost them to the relevant support agencies. This course has proved one of the most popular initiatives that we have run to date, with MF&RS having more employees trained in this area than any other health related training programme that we have ever previously run.
The success of this training programme has attracted participants on the course from other Fire Services in the country as well as Merseyside Police and local community teams such as the Knowsley Council and Wirral Council.
To date, our internal trainers have trained over 20% of our workforce in Mental Health First Aid (>200 staff), a 2 day course, enabling employees to be able to spot the early signs and symptoms of mental ill health among their colleagues, make emergency interventions and signpost them to the relevant agencies for professional help and support.
We recognise that our staff are more likely to meet someone with a mental health condition than they are to meet someone requiring physical first aid, so MF&RS have made Mental Health First Aid a mandatory training element for all of our new Firefighter recruits on joining the Service.
The Service now has 6 employees fully qualified to deliver Mental Health First Aid training, enabling the Service to deliver the training to more employees cost effectively and by people who can engage the audience and two of these instructors have recently become qualified to deliver the Youth Mental Health First Aid programme, so we can actively engage our younger people on our Princes Trust programme and Fire Cadet scheme.
Since June 2017, the Service MHFA Instructors began the huge task (in addition to their full time roles) in training all employees at all MF&RS sites to a minimum of Mental Health First Aid Lite (3 hour awareness course). This rolling programme has been an enormous success, with over 270 operational staff so far being trained in mental health awareness (in addition to the 200 staff already trained in full Mental Health First Aid). The delivery of the Mental Health First Aid Lite has resulted in the Service now having 34 Blue Light Champions across the Service. The Champions are volunteer employees who are ready and willing to help promote mental health conversations across the Service, are willing to share their own personal experienceswith their peers and are available to help support staff in to seeking psychological support. All of our vulnerable persons’ advocates who work within the community of Merseyside have also received this training.
Full Time Occupational Health and Wellbeing team
The Occupational Health and Wellbeing team work to maintain the highest possible standards of both physical and psychological health and wellbeing of MF&RS employees. This team is accessible to all staff, comprised of a clinical team and admin support, staff can access fast medical advice and support, counselling and referrals. Within a supportive manner, Occupational Health are placed to support staff who may be struggling with their psychological wellbeing. They may reduce a person’s hours or place restrictions on their work routine in order to best support their psychological wellbeing whilst they are accessing the support that they need. Occupational Health will also help to re-introduce staff back in to work after a period of absence, ensuring that they are medically supported when they return to work and are regularly contacted whilst they are absent from work in order to minimise any feelings of exclusion or isolation.
All operational staff have mandatory 2 yearly health screening appointments with the medical team, in which the team can monitor a person’s physical and mental wellbeing, giving the Occupational Health team the ability for early detection and intervention of physical and mental health risks. These appointments help to identify any physical ailments that may have been contributed to by mental ill health and vice versa. This gives MF&RS a proactive and practical culture in supporting employee wellbeing, with Occupational health being able to fast track staff in to additional support such as Counselling, CBT, and Psychiatrists.
Mental Health Awareness Conferences
During Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, on 16th May, MF&RS worked collaboratively with Merseyside Police to host a mental health conference, in which both Fire and Police employees who had struggled with their mental health volunteered to share their experiences with their colleagues. Mental Health Leads from both organisations also presented to remind staff what support was available for their psychological wellbeing, with a market style area for external local mental health support networks to showcase their work to staff. Approx. 60 people attended, the aim of the conference was to encourage more staff to talk openly about their mental health struggles to avoid the feelings of isolation whilst giving staff the knowledge of where to access help and support in a confidential manner.
On the National Stress Awareness Day, (1st November 2017), the MF&RS mental health leads in partnership with Wirral Mind hosted a very successful ‘Trauma Support in the Emergency Services’ conference attended by over 70 representatives from across North West emergency services.
As an emergency service, it is reasonably foreseeable that our staff (and particularly our operational staff) will face traumatic incidents regularly throughout their career. We maintain a legal and moral duty to ensure that we support our employees’ mental health and wellbeing throughout their careers, so that they may live happy, healthy lives both during their time in service and when they have retired.
The aim of the day was to educate staff around the importance of supporting colleagues psychological wellbeing, with key note speakers on the day such as Dr Anne Eyres ‘Putting People at the Heart of Emergency Management’ and Dr Dave Sloggett ‘The Forgotten Victims, The Wider Implications of Terrorism’. Demonstrating leadership in trauma support for staff, Merseyside Fire Service’s Deputy Chief and Chair of the Authority both committed their time to participate in the conference and deliver presentations from both a personal and professional perspective as to why they so strongly believe that psychological support for staff should be at the heart of everything that we do.
Trauma Support for Staff
Following the mental health leads undertaking an 18 month research/scoping programme and assessment of other Fire and Rescue Services, MF&RS created and introduced Critical Incident Stress Management in July 2013. The Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team was developed using only our own staff, ensuring the fullest possible engagement with the workforce. The team is committed to supporting staff who have attended or experienced a traumatic incident either in or out of the workplace.
Our team consists of two coordinators, Kelly Patterson (Senior Occupational Health Officer & Psychological Therapist) and Group Manager Mark Thomas (Uniformed Senior Officer). Kelly and Mark have also attended external training courses, enabling them to upskill as internal CISM trainers, again allowing the fullest possible engagement from others.
Our Defusing officers are 24 Flexible duty Senior Officers at Station Manager Level who offer defusing post incident. The defuser role is very transactional in the immediate aftermath of an attendance at a traumatic incident – defusing officers will be deployed back to the home station of each team in their own environment to discuss the incident and raise any immediate welfare concerns. Utilising officers in this manner we can ensure that all individuals are accessed as and when the requirement arises.
We have now developed a team of 24 Debriefers who offer post-incident debrief support to crews and teams following the more serious or unusual incidents which may provoke a more unpleasant emotional response. This team consists of individuals from varying departments and roles allowing selection of the most appropriate individuals to undertake a Critical Incident debrief.
In the five years since the process began, over 286 critical incidents have been declared with over 550 staff being defused (out of an operational cadre of 620). We have undertaken 30 Critical Incident Debriefs and feedback from each session has been positive.
All those involved in the Critical Incident Stress Management Team have participated in full training courses in their specific area of work within the team and all are also Mental Health First Aid trained.
The success of this programme has resulted in other Services such as Liverpool John Lennon Airport Fire Service and Merseyside Police approaching the coordinators of the CISM Programme for assistance in reviewing the trauma support available in to their service. In 2017 the MF&RS CISM Leads helped to co deliver debrief training to Merseyside Police staff.
Peer Support Programme
The Service recognise that not everyone will wish to access support through the usual, formal channels. Because of this, the Service mental health lead introduced and developed a more informal peer support network within the Service.
The Peer Support Network is available to help support colleagues in times when their health and wellbeing may be affected due to various life difficulties. The Network is made up of volunteer staff who are passionate about supporting their colleague’s health and wellbeing. They will provide confidential support in which colleagues may find more comfortable that accessing through more formal means. Peer support is designed to be used in conjunction with existing welfare systems, with Peer Supporters referring staff they support to OH Services such as counselling and the EAP – Supporters giving their colleagues the prompting and confidence to seek further assistance.
As well as providing one to one support to colleagues, Peer Supporters will seek to promote the Network and positive mental health. For many staff, the comfort in knowing that support is within easy reach is enough to create a more relaxed and healthier environment; in which staff know that they have their colleagues looking out for their best interests.
Peer Supporters will also promote positive mental health and wellbeing, working towards removing the stigma attached to mental ill health.
The Aim of the Peer Support Network is:
-Promote positive mental health and wellbeing across the Service
-Provide support to colleagues whose wellbeing may be affected by life issues such as financial difficulties, relationship breakdowns, mental and/or physical illnesses, caring responsibilities etc.
-Actively work to reduce the stigma attached to mental ill health
-Develop a trusting and non-judgemental relationship with those that they support
-To identify colleagues needs and help them to recognise what support they may need and signpost to supporting resources both inside and outside of the Service
Alcohol Pathway of Care
Alcohol dependency is a problem that affects all occupations, the effects of which can have a disastrous consequences for the individual, colleagues, and families and in certain circumstances members of the general public.
The Service, by the very nature of its risk critical work, recognises the importance of being proactive as opposed to be reactive, and that early identification intervention is vital in relation to issues staff may have with alcohol dependency. MF&RS therefore seek to address this issue when possible in a caring, positive and constructive manner. Whilst it is recognised from health research that men are less likely to seek support for their mental ill health than women, MF&RS recognise that as the Service remains predominantly male, males are more likely to turn to alcohol or other negative coping mechanisms to cope with their psychological ill health
. Whilst the Service is striving to educate our staff in relation to positive coping mechanisms and seeking to break down the culture that mental should now talk, it recognises that some may still turn to alcohol and so we aim to continue to support those who do, to help them back to positive health.
MF&RS have adopted an ‘Alcohol Pathway of Care’, which provides the Service and the employee with a clear methodology for dealing with problems arising from the employee’s use of alcohol should an employee acknowledge that they have developed an alcohol dependency.
Essential for the success of the pathway of care is that the employee recognises their problem and that they fully co-operate with their treatment programme.
The aim of the pathway of care is to provide support for the employee with a view to assisting them to a full recovery, thereby allowing a return to a normal life enabling them to function and continue with their career safely without risk to themselves or others.
In order to help promote alcohol awareness, MF&RS host a programme of health promotion initiatives, which will ensure that employees are made aware of the effects, implications and risks associated with alcohol abuse, the signs and symptoms of abuse, and the method of seeking confidential treatment, guidance and advice. This is achieved by promotional information and health promotion initiatives as well as advice given during medical/health screenings and on request by the Occupational Health team.
Mind Blue Light Programme and MF&RS mental health film
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service have pledged to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination by signing the Time to Change MIND blue light pledge.
MF&RS continue to work in close collaboration with our colleagues from the national mental health charity Mind so that we can review our own best practice regarding mental health and wellbeing support and challenge how our programmes could be developed and improved. Our initiatives have been showcased at several events such as the Merseyside MIND Blue Light Conference in March 2016 attended by other Services from the North West and more recently in June 2019 to the National Suicide Prevention Alliance.
Following our conference presentations, other emergency services have continued to contact MF&RS asking for guidance and assistance to develop and improve their own mental health and wellbeing services such as Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service and Merseyside Tunnels Police.
As part of the blue light collaboration with Mind we previously created a Merseyside blue light mental health film. Volunteer staff who have experienced mental ill health previously created the concept and we were able to deliver in collaboration with Police, Ambulance and Search and Rescue teams under the auspices of the Merseyside Blue light network. The project has increased awareness of Mental Health in the emergency services on a regional and national scale with media interest locally and several thousand views via social media within the first ten days of publishing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSSst4JR19E). Due to the amount of incredibly powerful film material that was filmed using our staff, MF&RS have now created our own bespoke film of our staff talking about their mental ill health experiences, which will be used internally for staff education and to promote positive mental health and wellbeing. Both films aimed at reducing the associated stigma, helping to break down the barrier that it is ok to talk about mental ill health, promote support and reduce the feelings of isolation those struggling in silence may feel.
Cheshire and Merseyside Suicide Reduction Board
A Senior Officer from MF&RS represents the Service at board level at the Cheshire and Merseyside Suicide Reduction Partnership Group. Directors of public health have identified Suicide reduction as a priority. This Board is one of nine national groups commissioned by Local Authority Public Health to produce and deliver a local Suicide Reduction Action Plan (SRAP)with the aim to reduce suicide numbers within both the Cheshire and Merseyside areas.
The Cheshire and Merseyside Reduction Network was established in 2008 to seek greater coordination of responses to and understanding patterns of suicide and to ensure suicide reduction activity does not get overlooked or slip off the agenda during the reshaping of the public sector.
As a result of the ongoing work within the Board and MF&RS’s commitment to mental health awareness and education, in May 2018, the Health, Safety and Welfare Committee, chaired by a member of our Strategic Management Team and attended by all Union Representatives agreed to the roll out of suicide awareness training to all Service Staff. As the Service responds to suicide threats within the community (as well as MF&RS having a number of retired Firefighters over the years complete suicide) MF&RS believe that making staff suicide aware could help to make a difference to the numbers of suicide within Merseyside.
Family Liaison Officers
The Service has identified that if a death in service was to occur, then the bereaved family in the community would require both emotional and practical support. Family Liaison officers were appointed and trained in 2015; so should the unfortunate event of the death of a colleague occur whilst on duty, appropriate support is available by the Fire Service for the bereaved family within the community. Chaplaincy support is also readily available for the families (available to those of faith or not) should they request it.
The Service has trained 15 family liaison officers to deal with these eventualities (CPD is undertaken annually). All of these individuals are staff volunteers from every department of the Service and each has made a commitment to support their colleagues.
The Family Liaison Officers have been utilised with additional duties since the training; for example, in 2016 one of our staff members was unfortunately involved in a road traffic collision whilst on duty, which resulted in the fatality of a motorcyclist. This employee had little to no support at home, living alone and struggling already with serious health issues and financial difficulties. The Family Liaison Officer used their knowledge, skills and training to offer both emotional and practical support during the emotionally difficult time for the individual. Prior to the introduction of the FLO process this support would not have been available to our employee. The Critical Incident Coordinators oversee the Family Liaison Team.
Stress Risk Assessments
The Service utilises its own team of staff from different departments who are trained to undertake Stress Risk Assessments (around the identification and management of the symptoms and effects of stress). This is aimed at being proactive rather than reactive regarding stress in the workplace, with assessors working with personnel to identify perceived stressors and put in place actions that can help to reduce these feelings prior to them becoming detrimental to the persons health to the point they become absent from work due to it.
Working closely with employees and line managers; we are committed to providing intervention and support to our staff as necessary
Employee Assistance Programme
MF&RS has recognised that the health of our staff is affected by the wellbeing of their family and where practicable, offers services for the families of our staff. MF&RS offers all employees a full Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) that also provides life management services encompassing issues such as childcare, eldercare, finance and debt advice. Running 24 hours/365 days a year, this service is extended to provide some support for the employees’ family living at the same address. The Service reviewed the provision of the EAP in 2016 to ensure that the offer to our staff is the most appropriate and timely and meets their needs.
Mental health and wellbeing is an area we are developing to keep employees healthy and in work. Our EAP offers life management support that allows our employees and their immediate family to utilise the services available. The EAP provides counselling, via a 24 hour helpline and face to face counselling for our staff.
The MF&RS mental health lead receives quarterly usage reports from the EAP, which indicates what issues the EAP are most commonly being contacted about within that 3 month period alongside, which district areas are utilising the services most. This report helps the mental health lead personalise health promotion materials to specific areas of the Service that are most relevant to what is most commonly being enquired about during that period.
Service Chaplain and Bridging Team
The Service Chaplain works closely with the mental health lead and is embedded in the Service to such an extent that he has completed the firefighter recruitment training programme. He has built and developed relationships with staff and provides pastoral care and support to those of faith or not. He officiates at weddings and funerals of our staff and attends operational incidents to provide support following difficult operational incidents.
A Bridging Team also works alongside the Chaplain. The bridging team is a group of voluntary MFRS staff who offer peer support to other colleagues in times of emotional need and distress. All this work contributes towards our goal of ensuring a healthy workforce as we recognise the importance of mental and spiritual wellbeing.
National Fire Chief’s Council (NFCC)
MF&RS are recognised locally, regionally and nationally as an employer who prioritises the mental health and wellbeing of their workforce. Other emergency services across the UK have approached our staff to explore our successes and to improve their own. Subsequently, the mental health leads have volunteered to contribute nationally for the Fire and Rescue Service at the NFCC Mental Health Sub- Committee. This sub-committee sits underneath the Prevention Coordination Committee and deals with the broader mental health challenges within the communities of the UK, joining up Fire and Rescue and Public Health England at a strategic level to ensure a consistency in Service delivery in relation to mental health in the community; whilst also recognising the needs in terms of positive mental health for Fire and Rescue staff.
Volunteering can improve people’s social connections and is positively associated with improved mental health and wellbeing, especially positive for those who are currently unemployed or struggling with social isolation due to physical or mental health illnesses.
A positive impact on mental health is more likely when people take part voluntarily, rather than when mandated to do so. Moreover, some research suggests that those taking part voluntarily contribute more time than those required to volunteer. The quality of relationships formed while volunteering should also be considered when evaluating volunteering programmes. Research points to the importance of developing a connection with beneficiaries as important in improving mental wellbeing.
MFRS began the recruitment of volunteers in October 2016 with the first cohort starting in the role in March 2017 and we now have 54 volunteers working in and around MF&RS.
To date our volunteers have supported a broad range of activity within Community Risk Management including:
Arson Reduction campaigns pan Merseyside assisting MFRS staff in completion of Home Fire Safety Checks (HFSCs) and reassuring the public on arson reduction/crime within the communities
Events utilising the climbing wall engaging with members of the public including events for the Homeless Games (May 2017) and the 50th birthday celebration of the Training and Development Academy
Water Safety Week at the Pier Head working with Marine Fire team to engage with school children to advise on water safety
Community clean up events with key Local Authority partners in Wirral prior to the opening of the Hive Youth Centre
Health and Wellbeing events where the volunteers have engaged with elderly members of the community about the services MFRS offer and the importance of working smoke alarms
High Rise Campaigns pan Merseyside following the Grenfell Tower fire in London. Volunteers assisted Advocates and MF&RS employees in completion of HFSCs
Family fun days during school summer holidays engaging with members of the public, handing out leaflets and giving advice on home fire safety
MF&RS again this year continue to show commitment to the Charter for Employers who are Positive about Mental Health, by renewing its Mindful Employer membership and National Workplace Wellbeing Charter. MFRS are also now members of the National Suicide Prevention Alliance.