The pressures of policing are taking their toll on officers across England and Wales – and the Police Federation is putting the spotlight on wellbeing.
“In Gloucestershire, there’s an awful lot of work that has started in relation to the wellbeing of our officers – but there’s an awful long way to go,” said Sarah Johnson, Chair of Gloucestershire Police Federation.
“After quite a long time of requesting to get on board with the Blue Light Pledge to Change programme http://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/campaigns/bluelight/blue-light-time-to-change-pledge/, this is now something that is being progressed through our people services department.
“The hope is that we will be signed up to that pledge in April, which is a massive step forward in terms of the organisation committing to offering psychological assistance to officers.
“We are also running three mental health first aid courses, that the Federation and Gloucestershire Police are co-funding, over February and March, which will mean that we have members of staff in the workplace, both police officers and police staff, who can spot the signs and hopefully signpost, when people need it, to other resources.
“So, if they need counselling or some time or just somebody to listen to them, that’s there. Following some workshops that I ran at the beginning of last year, it was one thing our members highlighted would be really helpful – to have a network of people who understood the stresses and strains and just be a first port of call in terms of support.”
In a national survey of police officers, 80% of respondents experienced feelings of stress, low mood, anxiety, or other mental health and wellbeing difficulties and nine out of ten (92%) of these indicated that their psychological difficulties had been caused or made worse by work.
Only 21% of line managers surveyed had received training on supporting colleagues who have disclosed a mental health or wellbeing difficulty.
Sarah added: “The training for supervisors we are providing also came out of those workshops. Line managers are desperate to know what’s available for staff with psychological illnesses, whether the officers are a little bit low or being depressed or even worse conditions.”
A Freedom of Information Act request has shown that 110 Gloucestershire police officers took time off last year for stress, anxiety, depression or PTSD. Sarah said there are almost certainly many, many more people.
“There are additional pressures and police officers are feeling it,” said Sarah. She cited lone working – with no one to share the burden with, increase in workloads, the breaking of the psychological contract between Government and officers and police officers having to work longer as reasons for increased illness.
What would be Sarah’s advice to someone who may be struggling? “Make sure somebody’s aware – don’t keep it to yourself,” she concludes.
“Either talk to your line manager, friends, colleagues or come and talk to the Federation because there are things that can help, whether it is a short-term adjustment, whether it’s signposting to somebody who’s more formally trained to deal with various psychological issues, or encouraging to go and see their GP if it’s a physical issue that has manifested. But certainly do not suffer in silence on your own.”