This week is ‘Mental Health Awareness Week‘ and the RFU will be supporting efforts to raise awareness of the importance of identifying the signs of mental health issues early and the support mechanisms available to deal with mental health.
Acknowledging and supporting members with mental health in the fire service is more difficult to tackle due to the stigma associated with the fire service, an occupation where firefighters help people in their time of need, and mental health and the false perception that tough burly firefighters are immune to such illnesses.
Mental health problems affect around one in four people in Britain, and range from common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, to more rare problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. A mental health problem can feel just as bad, or worse, as any other physical illness – only you cannot see it.
The RFU has noticed a continued increase in the number of cases being dealt with that relate to mental illness, due to the nature of the duty system there is an increased risk that On-Call firefighters are exposed to the causes of mental health. While having to juggle work and family life, On-Call firefighters have the added pressure of providing and sustaining a commitment to the fire service. It is therefore vital that fire services have the support in place to both recognise the signs of employees suffering from mental illness but also provide the necessary support.
In our experience this support is rarely available, which is why the RFU will continue to work with services at local level across the country to help raise awareness of mental illness, and the importance of early intervention.
Usually the last person to realise that their mental health may be a cause for concern is the individual him/herself, which is why all fire service staff need to be adequately trained to recognise the signs of mental illness, looking out for their colleagues in the same way they do when responding to an emergency call.
If you or someone you know is or might be experiencing mental health issues, please contact your local RFU representative for support and advice.