“The primary duty still remains with forces to take care of their officers and support them from career start to career end,” Gloucestershire Police Federation has said, as new national figures show that nearly 10,000 police officers had to take time off for mental health in the past year.
A Freedom of Information request by Police Oracle showed that 9,874 officers had taken time off due to stress, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the financial year 2019/20, but the figure is likely to be even higher as five forces, including Gloucestershire, did not respond.
Steve James, Chair of Gloucestershire Police Federation, said: “In our force we’ve seen officers suffering PTSD and associated symptoms not just off the back of single events where they’ve gone to something particularly shocking or tragic, but because of a steady drip, drip, drip of exposure to trauma over 30-year careers.
“We had an officer retire early for exactly that reason and I think we will see more and more of that, because if you combine all those pressures that make officers fatigued, tired and pressured, you’re putting this burden on top of that burden.
“One of the big issues we keep seeing from staff is anxiety caused by workloads, increased scrutiny, just that increasing pressure on officers. We do have things that are there to support officers, like Oscar Kilo and the Welfare Support Programme, but the primary duty still remains with forces to take care of their officers and support them from career start to career end.
“Certainly in Gloucestershire we are in a better position with [mental health] now than we’ve ever been, but like a lot of forces we’re still tackling the symptoms rather than the causes. Prevention is better than cure.”
Chief Police officers acknowledge that, during their careers, each officer is likely to encounter between 400 to 600 traumatic events. Most citizens will experience between three or four in their lifetime.
This is the seventh year Police Oracle has run the survey, and there’s been a 57% rise in officers being signed off for mental health reasons over that time. But police chiefs say it’s a positive step that more officers are asking for help and say that there’s now less of a stigma around mental health.