MENTAL health was the cause of 37 per cent of days lost to sickness of Thames Valley fire service staff who receive emergency calls and send out fire engines.

Over the past four years, of the 965 days taken off sick by staff in the Thames Valley Fire Control Service, 359 were due to mental health issues like depression, stress and anxiety.

The control room, based in Calcot, Reading, takes all emergency fire and rescue calls across Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

Simon Harris, the control room general manager, said: “While emergency services work is inherently stressful, I don’t think the amount of problems with mental health has increased. But talking about it has, the stigma has reduced, and before it was kept bottled up.”

Over the last 12 months, days lost to mental health problems fell to 28 per cent, or 87 days out of a total 314. Mr Harris said: “It’s pleasing to know that it has dropped, but we don’t want to be complacent.”

The service will carry out an architectural survey to see what changes to the control room environment it can make to improve staff health and wellbeing. Councillors will likely consider the results in July this year and decide what to do next.

Mr Harris said there is a ‘big link’ between lighting and mental health. He also said: “We want to get some new plants in there, it’s a really low cost way to improve how the environment feels.

“It’s not going to be huge sums, just simple things that can make an environment more welcoming and friendly.”

Thames Valley Fire Control Service already provides mental health support in several ways, including trauma support, lunchtime sessions when staff are encouraged to talk about mental health, and collaboration with Mind, a mental health charity.

Mr Harris said: “There is far more support available now than what used to exist. Staff are our most important resource by a country mile.”