NEARLY 8,500 police officers have been signed off due to stress, depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the past year.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request showed that 8,450 officers had taken time off due to psychological problems in the financial year 2020/21.
This is lower than last year’s figure of 9,874, but just over a third (34%) higher than eight years ago, when 6,294 were signed off for psychological illness.
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has taken its toll on officers’ mental health – in the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW)’s latest Demand, Capacity and Welfare Survey, 77% of respondents said they had experienced difficulties with their mental health and wellbeing over the previous 12 months.
But of the police forces who responded to the FOI request, 31 out of 38 reported fewer mental health absences than they had last year. Police Scotland recorded the biggest fall, from 845 to 363. Meanwhile West Midlands Police had the biggest rise, from 193 to 534.
John Apter, Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW), said officers “had been left mentally battered and bruised” by policing the demands of the pandemic and being unable to take all their rest days.
He said: “The mental health crisis within policing has reached epidemic levels, with seven out of 10 officers having struggled with their mental health and wellbeing over the past year. Most of my colleagues have put this down to buckling under the weight of demand.
“Police have stepped up and have done all they can over the pandemic to protect the public and have been left exhausted as a result.
“Thousands have told us their mental health and wellbeing has suffered, as they are unable to take rest days and annual leave for a healthy work-life balance. In fact, more than 480,000 days off are owed to officers in England and Wales for cancelled leave.
“It is no surprise my colleagues are left mentally battered and bruised. How much more compelling evidence is needed to bring about change?”
John said there needed to be preventative measures to help officers before mental health problems forced them off work, adding: “If forces or the Government fail to act, this would be unforgivable and the impact could be seen for decades to come.”
PFEW’s Wellbeing Chair Hayley Aley agreed, pointing out that forces should collect data on how many traumatic incidents officers had been subjected to.
Speaking at the recent Emergency Services Show, Hayley said: “If the organisation could work with that information, take the time to speak to the officer, check in and give them that support, we would be pre-emptively tackling the problem. At the moment, no forces hold that data, and unless the individual asks for help, nobody knows they are struggling.”
Chief Constable Chris Rowley, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Lead for Wellbeing and Engagement, said that in recent years officers had become more willing to speak up about mental health issues and that it was a positive sign that over 12,000 people had received a health check at one of Oscar Kilo’s 10 wellbeing vans.