Background Mental ill health among ambulance staff is widespread. Evidence suggests that, with the right support, staff experiencing mental ill health can continue to work, symptom severity can be reduced and suicide prevented. To identify whether organisational support meets staff needs, this research explored the perceptions and experiences of staff working in a large ambulance trust covering the south west of England.
Methods Between September and October 2018, ambulance staff were invited to complete an online questionnaire, which assessed demographics, work-related stressful life events, related psychological impact assessed by the avoidant subscale of Weiss and Marmar’s Impact of Event Scale-Revised, mental ill health sickness absence during the previous 12 months, perceptions and experiences of organisational support and acceptability of a proposed wellbeing intervention offering mandatory time-to-talk at work.
Results Over 11% (N =540) of the workforce responded. The majority reported experiencing work-related stressful life events (n=444; 82%), that were associated with subsequent avoidant symptoms. Avoidant symptom severity peaked between six-months to five-years after an event (F (5,438) = 2.4, p=0.03), was associated with repeated exposure (F (4,439) = 2.9, p=0.01) and to sickness absence. A fifth of participants reported mental ill health sickness absence (21.6%), a third of which was not disclosed as related to mental health. Content analysis identified stigma, fear, as well as embarrassment, as barriers to disclosure and help-seeking. Perceptions and experiences of organisational support were significantly correlated (r (195) =0.46, p<0.001) and positive.
Conclusions Symptoms associated with work-related stressful life events can persist for years among ambulance staff. Given the association between organisational support and mental wellbeing, it is possible that an intervention, such as mandatory time-to-talk, supported at an organisation level could improve wellbeing among ambulance staff. Such an intervention needs to be evaluated in future research.
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