Mental health awareness at West Yorkshire Fire

Mark Thompson spends every day helping others during some of their worst moments. 

Control Manager Mark Thompson stood in-front of computers in WYFRS uniform

However, Mark, who is control manager for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS), revealed how he needed support when he and his wife struggled with their mental health after losing two family members in a house fire.  

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and WYFRS is focusing on the importance of taking care of yourself and those around you.  

Mark received help and support from the Firefighter’s Charity to help him deal with the unimaginable grief he and his wife Jeanette were experiencing.   

“My wife and I lost relatives in a house fire a few years ago,” said Mark. “Being in the job that I’m in, it did affect my wife and I really badly.  

“It was after the inquest when we really needed support. It brought it home what had actually happened, and we heard all the details unfortunately. The help was really needed then.  

“My mental health was impacted… it was not really being able to get certain images out of our minds. I did work a lot through the process, when we were grieving, and things came back to me every time we were dealing with house fires and things like that – particularly if people had been hurt.  

“I couldn’t go home and share that with my wife, knowing we’d dealt with a bad job, because obviously my wife was really, really struggling with her grief." 

Mark and Jeanette were offered a week’s stay in one of the charity’s self-contained bungalows at Jubilee House with access to the gym, pool, sessions with our team and group wellbeing sessions.  

Mark said: “I’ve adapted a lot of the tools I learned at Jubilee into my life – both at home and at work. Strategies like calming people down and focusing on what is important, what we can change, and looking forward to a better state of mental health, is so important.  

“Sometimes we firefighters need the help that we give to the public as part of our jobs, and we’re right where we should be with that – having the charity there for us.”  

Mental Health Awareness Week is aimed at encouraging conversations around mental health in workplaces, families and communities across the UK and the key theme this year is anxiety.  

Ian Brandwood, Chief Employment Services Officer for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said: “The health and wellbeing of our staff is extremely important to us, which is why we have made a significant investment in our mental health offer over the last five years.  

“Any fire service has a number of highly stressful jobs, which can involve dealing with some traumatic and harrowing situations, and with that can come issues with mental health.  

“Historically there has been quite a stigma associated with admitting you are suffering with such issues within the firefighting community. This in turn has been linked to high suicide rates within the industry, albeit not here at WYFRS. 

“We have consequently done an enormous amount of work to overturn this culture in our service.”  

He added WYFRS has worked very closely with Leeds MIND over recent years, and a wide range of help is now available for all employees. “We are continuing to expand our mental health offer including helping managers to spot the signs of PTSD early,” added Mr Brandwood. “This means help can be given sooner, leading to better outcomes for our staff.”