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Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid for Firefighters

Introduction: Firefighting and Mental Health

Firefighting is a profession of unwavering courage and commitment, as firefighters consistently put their own lives on the line to protect people and property from devastating fires and other emergencies. In Scotland, these brave men and women face not only the physical dangers associated with their work but also an array of mental health challenges that often go unseen. The high-stress nature of their job, coupled with exposure to traumatic events, can result in a range of mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and burnout. As we explore the mental health challenges faced by firefighters in the UK, it is crucial to recognise the importance of addressing these issues and providing appropriate support and resources to help these heroes maintain their mental wellbeing and continue their vital work.

  • A study published in Occupational Medicine in 2017 found that UK firefighters had higher rates of mental health issues than the general population. This study reported that 26% of firefighters experienced symptoms of common mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression, while 22% met the criteria for PTSD.
  • According to research conducted by The Fire Fighters Charity in the UK, around 34% of firefighters reported experiencing a mental health issue in their lifetime, with 24% experiencing issues within the past year.
  • In a study commissioned by the charity Mind in 2018, it was found that 85% of emergency service personnel had experienced stress or poor mental health due to their work, and more than 60% had experienced a mental health problem.

What are the factors affecting Mental Health in Firefighting?


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Firefighters often witness or directly experience traumatic events, such as fires, accidents, and medical emergencies. This can result in PTSD, characterised by intrusive memories, nightmares, and emotional distress.


The constant exposure to tragedy and loss, coupled with the physical demands of the job, can contribute to the development of depression in firefighters.


Firefighters must cope with unpredictable and dangerous situations that can trigger anxiety or exacerbate pre-existing anxiety disorders.

Occupational Stress

The high-pressure nature of firefighting, along with long working hours and shift work, can result in chronic stress, which may impact overall mental health and wellbeing.


Chronic stress, workload, and exposure to traumatic events can lead to burnout, which can manifest as physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced sense of personal accomplishment.

Acute stress disorder

Similar to PTSD, acute stress disorder can develop in response to a traumatic event, but symptoms usually occur within a month of the event and last for a shorter period.

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Mental Health Awareness: Why should Firefighters undertake Mental Health Training?

Mental health training can be beneficial for firefighters for several reasons. Undertaking mental health training can help firefighters better understand, manage, and support their own mental well-being and that of their peers, employees, and family members.

Here are just six reasons Firefighters should undertake Mental Health Awareness Training:


Early identification of issues

Mental health awareness training helps firefighters recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health challenges in themselves and their colleagues, allowing for timely intervention and support before issues escalate.

Reducing stigma

Undertaking mental health awareness training can help break down the stigma surrounding mental health challenges, encouraging firefighters to openly discuss their experiences and seek help when needed, without fear of judgment or discrimination.

Developing coping strategies

Mental health awareness training can provide firefighters with effective coping strategies and stress management techniques, enabling them to better handle the demands of their profession and maintain their mental wellbeing.

Enhancing peer support

Training in mental health awareness helps firefighters develop empathy and understanding towards colleagues who may be struggling with mental health issues, fostering a supportive work environment and strengthening bonds within the team.

Improving overall mental health

By increasing awareness and understanding of mental health challenges, firefighters can proactively maintain their mental wellbeing, leading to increased resilience, a healthier work-life balance, and better overall mental health.

Better job performance

Firefighters who have a better understanding of mental health issues and the tools to address them are likely to experience improved job performance, as they can manage stress and anxiety more effectively.

Good news! There's an easily accessible solution to enhance your mental health skills...

Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid (SMHFA) – Tailored for Firefighters

Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid (SMHFA) is a training program developed in Scotland to equip individuals with the skills and knowledge to provide initial support to someone experiencing mental health problems or who is in a mental health crisis. The goal of SMHFA is to promote early intervention, reduce stigma, and increase awareness of mental health issues in the community.

The training covers various mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, and substance misuse, and teaches participants how to recognize the signs and symptoms of these conditions. It also provides guidance on how to approach and engage with someone who may be experiencing a mental health problem or crisis.

Green Ribbons has developed a tailored SMHFA course for Firefighters, addressing some of the unique issues in the sector.

What does Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid Training Cover?


Understanding mental health and mental health problems

This component focuses on building a foundational understanding of mental health, its impact on individuals and society, and the difference between mental health and mental illness.

Stigma and discrimination

Participants learn about the stigma surrounding mental health issues and the negative impact of discrimination on individuals experiencing mental health problems.

The recovery process

The course covers the concept of recovery and its importance in the journey of individuals experiencing mental health issues.


SMHFA provides information on the signs, symptoms, and risk factors of depression, as well as ways to support someone who may be experiencing it.

Anxiety disorders

Participants learn about various anxiety disorders, their signs and symptoms, and strategies to help someone who may be struggling with anxiety.


The course covers the signs and symptoms of psychosis, its risk factors, and the appropriate ways to support someone experiencing a psychotic episode.

The ALGEE action plan

The course teaches the ALGEE action plan, which is a practical approach to providing initial support and guiding someone experiencing mental health issues towards professional help.

Self-harm and suicide

Participants learn about the signs, risk factors, and appropriate ways to approach and support someone who may be self-harming or experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Substance misuse

SMHFA discusses the connection between mental health and substance misuse, and how to recognize and support someone struggling with addiction.

How does Scotland's Mental Health First Aid training work?


The course takes 12 Hours, typically spanning 2 full days or 4 half-day sessions, providing a comprehensive learning experience.

Certified Instructors

Courses are led by experienced, certified instructors who are continuously quality assessed by Health Scotland.

Interactive Learning

The course features a mix of presentations, group discussions, case studies, videos, and role-playing exercises to ensure a practical, hands-on learning experience.

Small Group Sizes

Classes, of 8-16, are kept small to facilitate personalised attention, encourage active participation, and foster a supportive learning environment.

ALGEE Framework

The course teaches the ALGEE action plan, which stands for Assess, Listen, Give reassurance and information, Encourage appropriate professional help, and Encourage self-help strategies.


Instructors maintain a safe and confidential space for participants to share their experiences and ask questions without judgment.

Course Materials

Participants receive a comprehensive course manual and additional resources to support their learning and ongoing development.


Upon successful completion of the course, participants receive a certificate that validates their skills and knowledge as Mental Health First Aiders.

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    Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid for Firefighters
    What percentage of UK firefighters met the criteria for PTSD according to a study published in Occupational Medicine in 2017?
    According to research conducted by The Fire Fighters Charity in the UK, what percentage of firefighters reported experiencing a mental health issue within the past year?
    Which mental health disorder can be characterised by intrusive memories, nightmares, and emotional distress in firefighters?
    What percentage of emergency service personnel experienced stress or poor mental health due to their work, according to a study commissioned by the charity Mind in 2018?
    What is the main goal of Scotland's Mental Health First Aid (SMHFA) training program?
    What is the connection between mental health and substance misuse discussed in SMHFA?
    What does the ALGEE action plan in Scotland's Mental Health First Aid (SMHFA) training provide?
    Which of the following is NOT a reason to undertake mental health awareness training?
    Which audience is this training designed for?
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