Fire and rescue services could help early detection of mental ill health in older adults
- Fire and Rescue services could provide assistance for healthcare providers, by including early detection of mental ill health (such as anxiety or depression) in older adults (aged 60 years and over) as part of their routine home fire safety visits, researchers have said.
- Mental ill health, such as anxiety and depression, is often under-diagnosed and under-treated in older adults, and they are less likely to access mental health services due to perceived stigma and fear of being a burden.
- Home Fire Safety Visits could support the detection of anxiety and depression in older adults and provide an ideal opportunity to appropriate signposting members of the public to other services including primary care and NHS talking therapies.
Improving early detection of mental ill health
Fire and rescue service staff could help healthcare providers reach more patients in need by including early detection of mental ill health in older adults as part of their routine Home Fire Safety Visits, researchers have said.
Fire services up and down the country include routine Home Fire Safety Visits to potentially vulnerable people in their area, including older adults, to ensure their properties are as safe as possible and to provide fire prevention advice.
And now a team of researchers, led by Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham OBE and Dr Tom Kingstone (Keele University) in collaboration with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue, Midlands Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, and colleagues at other academic institutes, and funded by the NIHR’s Research for Patient Benefit programme, have completed research to examine the potential use of Home Fire Safety Visits to include detection and sign-posting for anxiety and depression in older adults.
Under-diagnosed and under-treated
Mental ill-health, such as anxiety and depression, in older adults (aged 60 years and over) is often under-diagnosed and under-treated, and they are less likely to access mental health services due to perceived stigma and fear of being a burden.
Pressure on healthcare systems, particularly mental health services, make it difficult for healthcare professionals to identify conditions like anxiety and depression early, but visits like these provide a unique opportunity for fire and rescue service staff to support this early detection.
To investigate this proposal the research team conducted interviews with fire and rescue service staff, to understand more about their attitudes to incorporating mental health checks in their routine visits.
They found that staff were open to expanding these visits to include a focus on mental health, provided they had sufficient training and support from partner agencies in primary and social care settings to accept referrals for service users presenting with symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. Their findings have been published in the British Journal of General Practice.
Improving wellbeing of communities
Lead author Dr Tamsin Fisher said: “We are very grateful to have worked so closely with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service throughout the course of this research. We have spoken with a variety of personnel at the service who have been very honest and open about the research and potential to expand the services that they are providing.
“Other stakeholders, including older adults across Staffordshire, have been interviewed and a second paper is in progress to report these findings. By publishing this research, we are hoping to demonstrate that non-traditional providers of care, such as the Fire and Rescue Service could support the detection of anxiety and depression in older adults and help guide and encourage them to receive the care and/or support that they might need.”
Ian Read, Head of Prevent, Protect and Partnerships at Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, added: “Working with the research team at Keele University and partner organisations has been a positive experience. Through engagement with this research, we have built new relationships with our collaborators and used our involvement in research as a means to engage with other outside organisations.
“This research gives good evidence that interaction between the Fire and Rescue Service and the public during Home First Safety Visits can be used to further the objectives and priorities of the NHS, ultimately leading to better health outcomes for the individuals involved. At a time of diminishing resources for Fire and Rescue Services, a more collective approach to the health agenda can only be beneficial to the wellbeing of communities and utilisation of public funding.
“This research will also inform our approach to staff wellbeing going forward. We look forward to working with the team in the future to develop new ways to support members of the wider community.”
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