Mental health affecting more and more officers

18 May 2016

The mental health and stress levels of officers may be negatively impacted by the falling number of officers on the ground, the initial results of new research suggests.

That, coupled with the changing demands of policing, increasing complex cases, historical investigations which cannot be predicted and the lack of planning of resources to match those changing demands, are all impacting on how officers feel about their jobs.

The findings come from studies conducted in 2016 which looked at the impact the demands of the job have on officer welfare, and the experiences of those who have had mental health problems.

The key issues were that interviewed officers were fearful of disclosing they were having mental health worries due to the stigma involved, a lack of workplace support, and concerns about work exposing them to further traumatic situations which would trigger future episodes of stress.

Steve White, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “We know that more and more officers are suffering from stress – not just because of the situations they are exposed to, but the general demands of the job and the changing patterns of crime, the falling officer numbers which mean they have more to do, and the diminishing support that is in place in forces due to cuts in budgets.

“It is an absolute false economy to cut such welfare support as it is needed now more than ever. The long terms effects of mental health on people can be devastating so it is vital that issues can be identified early and that officers know they will be supported and helped. There are far too many people suffering in silence.”

The research found that of those surveyed:

  • 62% said they never or rarely felt optimistic and 60% never or rarely felt relaxed
  • Of those who had been off work sick in the previous 12 months, more than a quarter (29%) said one or more days of that had been due to stress, depression or anxiety
  • 65% said they still went to work even though they felt they shouldn’t have because of the state of their mental wellbeing on one or more occasions
  • 39% felt that their mental health problems were such that they sought help
  • Of those who disclosed seeking help to their line managers, 36% felt they had not got the right support. 73% of managers said they had not been given any training on how to support a colleague who was having difficulties with mental health and wellbeing
  • Officers feared disclosing having mental health problems due to factors such as fear of the reaction they would receive from supervisors and colleagues, fearing the stigma around mental health and the impact on their careers if they are seen as not able to cope
  • Officers reported feeling they were letting the team down if they took time off for stress
  • Officers had some concerns about the adequacy of support available
  • Managers reported a lack of ability to spot early signs of distress, anxiety and depression, especially the effect of non-work stressors and a lack of training on dealing with mental health issues due to cost and time

In April we revealed how the high-stress nature of the job is driving several police officers to consider suicide.