Stress, anxiety and depression are the most common causes of absence among members of the London Fire Brigade for the first time in the organisation’s history, its most senior firefighter has said.
Since 2016, the service has lost almost 26,000 working days to mental health issues, and tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower disaster have necessitated the hiring of four extra counsellors, bringing the total to 13.
Overall the London Fire Brigade (LFB) has seen a small increase in the number of days taken off as sick leave over the past three years, rising from 5.31% in 2016 to 5.56% this year.
LFB Commissioner Dany Cotton told the London Assembly on Thursday: “There have been small increases in the number of days we’ve lost due to sickness absence in the last three years, with the leading cause now for the first time being stress, anxiety and depression.
“We are putting new measures in place to support staff, and we have recruited four new counsellors who are in post.”
But Cotton also highlighted a positive in the new statistics, saying: ”In someways I’m glad that people are feeling able to be able to talk about the fact that they are having issues and actually recording it as due to depression or stress or anxiety, something that wouldn’t have necessarily happened in the past.
“It has been a terribly difficult and terrible challenging period, I think the fact that people are able to more open and honest about mental health is encouraging for me.”
She also highlighted how the impact of the Grenfell Tower disaster was still playing out on staff members’ mental health, with the stress of giving evidence to the ongoing public inquiry causing problems for many people.
Cotton has been the commissioner of the LFB since the beginning of 2017 and previously said mental health was one of her priorities.
Six months into the job, she was called in the middle of the night to take charge of the fire at Grenfell tower, which killed 72 people.