In the last few years, the profile of both physical and mental health has been raised, emerging from a variety of sources such as staff association surveys, the MIND Blue Light Programme and the Police Dependants Trust survey. This is a really positive step forward and a sign that the physical, emotional & psychological impact of the work carried out by our emergency services is starting to be de-stigmatised but we need to carry on building on this.
Police and other emergency service workers face unique and complex challenges that you don’t find in other sectors and so it is crucial that we recognise that and develop interventions and support tailored to meet those specific needs.
Looking after our mental health should be as natural as looking after our physical health and we hope, following its launch earlier this year, that Oscar Kilo and the Blue Light Wellbeing Framework should start to form part of every emergency service’s wellbeing strategy.
Oscar Kilo is a ‘sector-specific’ wellbeing framework and management resource built to help challenge and drive the wellbeing agenda across the emergency services. To do this, we have worked with the College of Policing, various police and mental health charities and Public Health England to understand the problem and come up with something that will support emergency services management by providing them with research, resources and guidance on how to improve their response to wellbeing.
If you have a buildup of experiences that are not processed (small things or big things) either at work, or in your personal life, it can tip you over the edge.
If you don’t feel confident that you can talk to your line manager and say that you need a break or to talk about a job that affected you particularly badly, then we can end up having a service in which we are only starting to recover people when they are already badly burnt out.
Police officers are very reluctant to put their hand up and say “I can’t cope” but talking about trauma is often the best thing. Taking that home at night often isn’t the best answer for the officer concerned.
Our wellbeing at work is very much about the culture and our behaviour towards each other. If we are serious about prevention, we must invest in changing these areas. For example, we often see dedicated people who willingly put themselves in harm’s way (physically and emotionally) tipping over into stress and anxiety because they feel they’ve been treated unfairly or feel they haven’t been listened to.
Fifty per cent of your wellbeing at work is determined by how you get on with your line manager. Quite frankly it boils down to whether you think that line manager actually cares about you at all.
Positive progress has been made to reduce the stigma attached to talking about stress, anxiety and depression which means that more people are now coming forward and emergency services as a result are identifying “a huge unmet need”. We must respond.
Research carried out by Dr Ian Hesketh, who is also the author of the Blue Light Wellbeing Framework hosted here on Oscar Kilo identified that the “extra mile activity” and “discretionary efforts” undertaken by officers and staff routinely as part of that culture are crucial. That cannot be costed or valued empirically but it also cannot be taken for granted and could even be “lost” if people are not treated properly.
We are at the early stages of what needs to be a massive culture shift, not only for leadership and management to get better at addressing the issues affecting their workforce, but also, in seeing a change in the way that staff perceive and consider their own physical, mental and social wellbeing.
We hope that by providing a place where we can share learning, research, best practice and have meaningful discussion and debate that Oscar Kilo and the Blue Light Wellbeing Framework will help facilitate this cultural shift and support each organisation in their own endeavours to improve and enhance their wellbeing provision.
We have a huge amount to do if we are to reassure our staff that the service is committed to picking them up when they struggle with their mental and physical health and we now have a lot support from across the emergency services family to ensure this happens.