Police Support Programme numbers soar as officers ‘consider suicide’

26 July 2016

Police Support Programme numbers soar as officers ‘consider suicide’

Traumatised police officers are flocking in ever greater numbers to a support programme for ‘vulnerable and at risk’ cases.

Numbers accessing the Welfare Support Programme (WSP) hotline have nearly tripled in five months with 311 people currently registered on the scheme.

Three people have been saved from suicide after intervention by trained staff while hundreds of others are being carefully monitored for their own health and wellbeing.

“Obviously these are the most serious cases, but we are seeing a marked increase in the number of police officers suffering from severe mental health issues,” said John Murphy, health & safety lead for the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) which set up the programme with the Police Firearms Officers Association (PFOA).

“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 officers felt unable to engage with their force welfare support or the NHS was not able to help.”

Mark Williams, chief executive of the PFOA, said: “There are now 311 people on the programme, from a starting point of just two last summer. Each month we are seeing an increase in calls and referrals and there are now 35 forces registered plus the Ministry of Defence and British Transport police. If the programme saved just one life, it would be worth it but the fact that we are helping so many officers within such a short time demonstrates there is a real crisis out there. We are also being proactive, reaching out to vulnerable officers who have been identified to us, perhaps for being on long-term sick leave, for example. Most importantly, we are open 24/7 so we can step in when people are at their lowest.”

The fact that officers are driven to consider suicide is no surprise to PFEW’s mental health lead Che Donald. A recent survey by Mind, the mental health charity, revealed that 5% of the staff and volunteers they interviewed from police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue services had made an actual attempt to take their own lives

Mr Donald said: “There have been unprecedented cuts to police officer numbers since 2010, with forces losing 20,000 officers. However, the demand placed on the police service has not decreased, with overall crime rates up including large increases in violent crime. Police officers have never felt so vulnerable; they are often working in highly stressful fast-moving environments along with being exposed to horrific situations which takes its toll. Coupled with the fact it was announced recently that officers were owed in excess of 400,000 rest days – which normally provide essential time to relax and re-charge batteries – it is no wonder we are seeing an increase in sickness levels including mental health and psychological issues.  This, together with a reduction in resources and manpower, can lead to the perfect storm.”

About PFEW’s Welfare Support Programme:
Since June 2015, officers and their families have been able to receive help from the Welfare Support Programme, set up by the Police Firearms Officers Association (PFOA) and PFEW. There are now 311 officers registered on the scheme, from 35 forces, as well as four members from the family of a deceased officer. The programme is available 24/7, 365 days a year with staff trained in Mental Health First Aid, suicide awareness, bereavement counselling and Neuro Linguistic Programming.  Police officers needing help or advice can access the WSP through their Joint Branch Board, who can make a referral.