Gratitude Games launched to support mental health of UK emergency workers

Thousands of emergency services workers will take part in a new Olympics-style multi-sport annual event to raise money to tackle the stress and trauma they experience in their jobs.

The inaugural Gratitude Games will be held next year and personnel from the NHS, police, fire service and other emergency services such as the RNLI will be taking part. The event will be open to emergency personnel from the four home nations.

Manchester and Salford will host the competition, which was announced on Thursday. Organisers hope the event will raise at least £10m over the next five years to expand the mental healthcare given to frontline staff who develop mental health problems after experiencing injury and death in the course of their jobs, which have been exacerbated by Covid-19.

Mike Downard, the Buckinghamshire firefighter behind the competition, said the name was chosen “to reflect public sentiment towards our NHS and emergency services, that would become a rallying point for people to show their support [and to be] a name that is emotional rather than functional”.

It was also decided to call it the Gratitude Games because the Olympic, Commonwealth and Invictus Games all had three syllables and “a memorable rhythm”, he added.

Personnel from 17 emergency services, also including blood bikes, mountain rescue and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, and some of their family members, will take part. Members of the public will be able to take part in the 5K and 10K runs and the triathlon.

The initiative comes after a report by the mental health charity Mind in May found 69% of fire, police and ambulance staff said their mental health had deteriorated because of the pandemic. They cited “relentless” workloads, greater exposure to traumatic events and the fear of passing on coronavirus as the key reasons.

Previous research by Mind has found that 27% of emergency service workers have thought about ending their life as a direct result of anxiety, depression and mental turmoil.

“We are all trained to carry out our duties but none of us are trained to deal psychologically with what we see. We leave incidents but many incidents don’t leave us,” said Downard. The most distressing incidents to attend as a firefighter were car crashes where people were trapped and fires where people needed to be rescued, he added.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, has given the event his full backing. The 20 sports will be held at venues including the Etihad campus, Salford Quays and Belle Vue sports centre.

Organisers, who have launched a fundraising appeal, plan to generate money – which will be given to four dedicated mental health charities for emergency responders – through corporate sponsorship, public donations and competitors’ sponsorship efforts.

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