PFEW recognises ‘suicide risks’ in high-stress officers

20 April 2016

Police Mental Health

The high-stress nature of the job is driving several police officers to consider suicide, says the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW).

Its Welfare Support Programme (WSP), set up by the Police Firearms Officers Association (PFOA) and PFEW, has seen the number of ‘vulnerable and at risk’ officers on its books soar in the 10 months since the scheme started.

Currently, out of 230 people registered on the scheme, a staggering 148 are being carefully monitored for their own health and wellbeing.

“Obviously these are the most serious cases, but we are seeing a definite increase in the number of police officers suffering from severe mental health issues. There are now more than 230 people on our programme, from a starting point of just two last summer. Each month we are seeing an increase in calls and referrals and there now 32 forces with officers registered plus the Ministry of Defence Police,” said Che Donald, PFEW’s mental health lead.

Mr Donald said: “The scheme is literally a lifeline for those who are down, feeling isolated and considered at risk, having been through a traumatic episode or some other reason. We have been involved with officers who have gone missing and were considered high suicide risks. In other cases, we have been able to step in when there was no force welfare support or the NHS was unable to help.

“More and more officers are needing to take time off for mental health reasons; they are often working in highly stressful, fast-moving environments along with being exposed to horrific situations which take their toll. Coupled with a reduction of 17,000 officers since 2010 and a demand that has not decreased and increases in crime, the pressure and stressors placed on our police officers are unprecedented today.”

The PFEW figures have been released to coincide with the latest survey from mental health charity Mind, which shows that one in four emergency service workers has thought about ending their lives.
The Mind survey also revealed that:
•    5% of the staff and volunteers from police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue services polled had made an actual attempt to take their own lives
•    41% had been prescribed medication
•    more than 92% suffered from stress, low mood and mental health issues at some point
•    and this made nearly two thirds of them think about leaving their jobs

Mr Donald said: “We are highly appreciative of the Blue Light Programme, provided by Mind, which has been vital in filling the void for available services to our officers. But more still needs to be spent to support the increasing numbers of emergency service workers who devote their lives to helping the public – and end up being signed off sick as a result. Police forces have a duty of care to their officers, however with their budgets severely slashed, the bill for mental health care provision too often ends up unpaid.”

Earlier this month, the BBC revealed that the number of police officers on long term sick leave due to psychological issues has been steadily increasing over the past five years after submitting FOI requests to forces in England and Wales.