Looking after your mental health as an emergency services worker 

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Health Assured team

05 July 2022

69% of emergency responders feel their mental health has deteriorated due to the pandemic.

Working in the emergency services brings unique challenges. Every day holds situations that are impossible to prepare for, and during your time in the role, you’re likely to experience many things that could impact your mental health. The added pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic will have made your job even more difficult, stretching your team to the max. These experiences can be hard to process; they might stay with you for a long time.  

You might have found your own way to cope with these experiences; everyone deals with these things differently. But it's important to remember to check in with yourself regularly because your mental health must come first. Before you take care of others—you must take care of yourself. 

Taking care of yourself sometimes means stopping to process difficult emotions or taking time to cool off after a high-pressure situation. It's about finding what works for you and making your wellbeing the number one priority. Below, we’ve put together some tips to help you nurture your mental health alongside your role.

 

Recognising and understanding emotions 

When you’re used to dealing with challenging circumstances day in, day out it’s not always clear what emotions you might feel in response. But these emotions can build up over time and could start to impact other areas of your life, such as your relationships or sleep pattern. That’s why it’s vital to recognise the emotions you’re feeling. Because once you recognise these emotions, you can start to identify potential causes and take steps to overcome them. Connecting with emotions can be difficult at first. Here are some tips you might find helpful:

Take a few deep breaths. The mind, body and emotions are all connected. Taking a few deep breaths before checking in with how you feel can help you feel more in tune with your body and emotions.

Write it down. Writing down how you feel can help you make sense of the thoughts in your mind and identify emotions.

Talk to others about how you feel. Discussing how you feel with others can also help you to identify emotions that you might not first recognise.

Look out for signs of burnout

Long-term stress can build up over time, leading to burnout—a state of mental, physical and psychological exhaustion. If you’ve dealt with several traumatic incidents, deaths or difficult calls over the past couple of weeks, look out for the signs below. Familiarising yourself with these signs should help you identify when something is wrong.

Common signs of burnout include:

  • Concentration problems
  • Low mood and energy
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling unable to cope
  • Racing worries and thoughts
  • Feeling on edge, anxious or scared
  • Feeling low self-confidence
  • Changed eating habits
  • Problems sleeping

 

Dealing with trauma 

As an emergency services worker, you’ll be used to dealing with traumatic events, high-pressure situations and heavy workloads regularly. Many of the incidents you encounter may be traumatic, like the examples given below:

  • Receiving a high number of distressing calls
  • Hearing stories from colleagues
  • Dealing with verbally or physically abusive people
  • The changes and pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Suicides

People deal with trauma in different ways. Emotions can range from feeling frightened and threatened to unsafe, ashamed or trapped. Sometimes Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop in response to these events. If you feel like the impact of a traumatic event may have stuck with you for longer than expected, seek support from your workplace, your GP or a mental health helpline.

 

Protecting yourself from burnout 

You are used to irregular working patterns, tight schedules and caring for others in need. But that doesn’t make it any easier to manage along with your other commitments, personal health and finances. When a lot is going on, overwhelm can quickly take over. So it’s essential to protect yourself and your ability to cope with life’s challenges. We’ve put together some tips below:

Your wellbeing is essential. Prioritise sleep, a balanced diet and staying hydrated.

Exercise. Moving your body vastly improves physical and mental health while reducing stress levels too.

Focus on things you can control. Shifting your perspective to things you can control can help you regain a sense of security in difficult moments, protecting you from burnout in the long run.

Time for things you enjoy. When life is busy, it's easy to neglect downtime. But spending time doing activities you love can give you the energy to take on difficulties and boost your mood.

 

When should I reach out for help?

If your thoughts and feelings are impacting your day-to-day life or you’re struggling to cope with them, it might be time to seek support. Even if you’re just curious to know what’s out there, we’d recommend researching the different options available.

If you feel your problems are impacting you at work, it might be time to approach the topic with your line manager or HR team. This way, they can advise you of the support available.

If you know you have access to support through the workplace, this could be a good avenue too. Many emergency services staff have access to an Employee Assistance Programme, through which they can access confidential counselling without needing to disclose personal issues to their colleagues.

It is always okay to seek help. It’s estimated that one in six workers in the UK will struggle with their mental health each year. Remember you’re not alone. It can be hard to have these conversations, but speaking up allows you to get helps you get back on track sooner.

 

Health Assured is here to support you  

Here at Health Assured, we support many emergency services workers. If you have an EAP with us, please call our 24/7 mental health helpline to see how we can support you. The line is completely confidential; our experienced counsellors are here to provide a listening ear whenever you might need it.

If you don’t have an EAP in place with us, then contact your employer for support. Alternatively, Mind offers a Blue Light Programme with extensive information, advice and guidance.

 

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