Comment | 'Fire service visits can get the elderly talking about mental health'
By Tamsin Fisher, Research Associate on the FIRESIDE study. This article first appeared in the Stoke Sentinel as a Personally Speaking column in November 2023.
When it comes to coping with problems related to mood and stress, older people will often suffer in silence. Very few will talk to friends, family or healthcare professionals about how they are feeling. There are many reasons for this, such as, embarrassment or a lack of awareness about mental health. Some may also believe poor mental health to be a normal part of ageing. If left untreated, low mood and stress can develop into mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, and continue to worsen over time.
It is important that we find new ways to encourage older people to talk about mental health concerns and to get appropriate support. We know that 'appropriate support' does not mean the same thing for everyone. Some people may prefer to refer themselves to NHS Talking Therapies, for example. Other people may wish to discuss taking an anti-depressant with their General Practitioner. Some may find that going to a community coffee morning is all that they need to lift their mood.
Between April 2022 and March 2023, Fire and Rescue Services in England made more than 500,000 home visits to vulnerable people in their homes. These visits are commonly referred to as Home Fire Safety Visits and include a fire safety check and a brief welfare and lifestyle assessment including questions about health. We think that these Home Fire Safety Visits could be a useful opportunity to talk to older people about mental health.
Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham OBE and Dr Tom Kingstone, both from Keele University, recently led a research study funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research. The study is called FIRESIDE and has looked at how the Fire and Rescue Service might provide mental health support to older people. During the study, we interviewed older people, Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service staff and people involved in health and social care to find out what they thought about these plans. So, what did we find?
Firstly, the Fire and Rescue Service are well-respected and trusted by older people who took part in the study. Many felt they would be happy to talk about mental health with a member of the service.
Secondly, whilst Fire and Rescue Service staff admitted 'we are not mental health professionals' they were confident they could provide advice and guidance to older people about mental health. Many talked about seeing people with mental health problems but were not sure how best to help.
And thirdly, people in local health and social care services (GPs, mental health professionals, social workers) supported plans for the Fire and Rescue Service to offer mental health support. All agreed that fire service staff needed the right level of training and support.
The team has developed an adapted model for home fire safety visits to include content about mental health. We have also developed new resources for the Fire and Rescue Service, including training for staff and information about mental health for older people.
So, can the Fire and Rescue Service help older people with mental health problems? We think so - our study has established widespread support for our idea. The study is a first step towards enabling more older adults to get support for low mood or stress. What we need to do now is pilot test this new approach with a handful of Fire and Rescue Services; we can then judge how best to roll this approach out to other services. We have applied for further funding to take this research forward. If successful, we will move a step closer to offering additional mental health training and resources to all Fire and Rescue Services across England.
- Keele University malaria research receives $750,000 backing from prestigious philanthropic foundation
- Keele University helping prepare Staffordshire for net zero future
- New purpose-built insectary will enhance Keele's world-leading research
- Keele degree leads to Daniel working with Premier League stars
- Keele University supports £2m climate education expansion for England's young learners