It’s okay to be not okay when it comes to mental health and wellbeing

It’s okay to be not okay when it comes to mental health and wellbeing – Gloucestershire Police Federation Chair Sarah Johnson says the issue and ensuring officers feel confident in coming forward is high up on her agenda.

When it comes to police officers’ mental health, and I know this does sound a bit of cliché, if you don’t look after yourself you can’t look after anybody else.

Wellbeing and mental health is very important and it’s an important part of the work I do as Gloucestershire Federation Chair.

In fact, it’s increasingly becoming part of the territory of being a police officer. Years ago we had more staff, more resources, both in terms of finances and in officers on the streets.

We’re all aware that these resources have been cut back dramatically, and locally we’re down about 250 officers from where we were a few years back.

Those cuts have had an impact.

Higher workloads, greater demands on our time, extra stress and extra strain all mean it’s vital that those who are left in our workplace are actually fit to do their job.

Alongside that there’s an inability to know how we should be looking after our mental health. The good news is that there’s lots going on nationally to tackle the issues which we can learn from and use here in Gloucestershire.

It’s down to every one of us to recognise what makes us feel better too; it might just be getting more sleep, taking part in some exercise, maybe even a spot meditation.

As a Federation, we want to be more proactive and continue to make sure officers who need help get it, get help from a local counsellor, for example, if that’s what’s required.

I know that sometimes officers are concerned that going through the employee assistance programme will impact on their privacy or mean that they’ll be identified.

That’s not the case and hopefully offering external help will reassure members of that.

We’ve worked to get mental health first aiders out in the force and the next steps for us is to get some internal communications out there so officers know we can help and that they are not alone. We want to be there to help whatever the need is for individual members.

Let’s break down the stigma of mental health – it’s still a big issue.

We’ll be sharing some mental health case studies soon so hopefully it’ll be clear that we can all talk about it.

Talking about it is so important and while the force is so much better in dealing with mental health issues than it was, we all still need to manage our physical as well as our mental wellbeing.

(Chair Sarah Johnson is pictured with Dave Harker from the force’s physical well-being board Police Dependants Trust #UpBeat Conference on 13 March)