Mental Health Illness Forces 10,000 Officers Off Work

NEARLY 10,000 police officers have been signed off due to stress, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the past year, a Police Oracle report has revealed.

A Freedom of Information request showed that 9,874 officers had taken time off due to psychological illnesses in the financial year 2019/20.

The real figure is likely to be even higher as five forces did not respond.

This is the seventh year Police Oracle has run the survey, and there has been a 57% rise over that time. But police chiefs say it is a positive step that more officers are asking for help and say that there is now less of a stigma around mental health.

It is no surprise that officers are having to take time off for mental ill health, when Chief Police officers acknowledge that during their careers, every officer is likely to encounter between 400 and 600 traumatic events. Most citizens will experience three or four in their lifetime.

The highest number of officers being signed off for mental health reasons this year was 1,396, at the Metropolitan Police – although the force said its figures incorporated a larger range of psychological illnesses than the FOI asked for.

This year’s biggest increase in absences was at Northamptonshire Police, where 237 officers were signed off, compared with 147 last year – a 61% rise. At the Police Service of Northern Ireland, figures were up from 449 to 645.

But many forces saw drops in mental ill health absences, including a huge drop at West Midlands Police from 1,251 absences last year to 193 this year.

More than one in five officers suffer from PTSD, according to a 2019 survey carried out by Cambridge University. Researchers also revealed that 93% of officers still went to work even when suffering from a work-related psychological issue.

Meanwhile, 43.9% of respondents to the Police Federation’s latest Demand, Capacity and Welfare Survey said that they viewed their job as very or extremely stressful.

The Government’s proposed Police Covenant will enshrine in law support and protection for police officers and their families, including mental health support.

PFEW Wellbeing Lead Belinda Goodwin said she hoped the Covenant would be a “game-changer”.

She added that she thought officers should get annual mental health resilience training, saying: “We have officer safety training every year around handcuffing, Taser, etc – we have refreshers on how to protect ourselves physically, but we’ve got nothing about protecting ourselves mentally.”

Andy Rhodes, NPCC Lead for Organisational Development and Wellbeing and Chief Constable of Lancashire Police, said that mental health was becoming less of a stigma in the police.

But he said: “The service needs to gear up its provision so that when you do stick your hand up and say you’re struggling, you’re going to get the support you’ve been promised. That unmet need is still significant. And in some forces it’s causing pressure on their occupational health to be able to provide the levels of service that are required.”

He added that Oscar Kilo – the National Police Wellbeing Service – had 10 outreach vehicles to support officers, and that it had plans to provide new policing recruits with positive mental health coping strategies.

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