Police officers are human too, mental health conference is told

11 November 2016

Andy Fittes

Delegates at a leading mental health conference have been told that the mental wellbeing of police officers is crucial to ensuring they can do the best job for the public.

Police Federation of England & Wales (PFEW) General Secretary Andy Fittes addressed the Mersey Care Annual Mental Health Social Care Conference, discussing the impact mental health has on the police service.

This is a dual issue for the police, who have to deal on a daily basis with people who suffer mental health issues, as well as the other challenges that can affect their own wellbeing.

Mr Fittes explained that in the year ending 31 March 2016, 2,100 people experiencing mental health issues were taken to police custody due to a lack of beds at hospitals, and also told of alarming case studies, including a patient who was held in a police cell for more than 44 hours as there was no space for them in hospital and a victim of sexual assault who also had to be detained in police custody.

But as well as those issues, which put a strain on already stretched resources in police forces across England and Wales, Mr Fittes spoke at length about the issues facing officers themselves.

He said: "Being a police officer is risky, demanding, comes with a lot of responsibility and also comes with its fair share of stress.

"The mental wellbeing of police officers is considerably poorer than in the general adult population, with a large proportion of officers having sought help for mental health and wellbeing."

The number of officers contacting the Welfare Support Programme - a joint initiative between PFEW and the Police Firearms Officers Association - tripled in the first half of this year.

Mr Fittes added: "It is a high-risk and all too often traumatic job, with increasing pressure and demands.

"It is vital that we protect our officers so they are in a better position to protect the public."

Other speakers at the Conference in Liverpool include former shadow minister for mental health Luciana Berger, Peter Kinderman from the University of Liverpool and British Association of Social Workers chief executive Ruth Allen.

Mr Fittes said: "It was a great opportunity to speak at this conference and talk in depth about the issues surrounding mental health and the police.

"It is important to remember that police officers are people too, and that the work they have to deal with on a daily basis can have an impact on their mental health.

"We help the police service to better help the public by providing the necessary welfare and support - and at a time of increased pressure and demands this is even more important.

"It is the same for social workers and other agencies, and it has been interesting to hear from people representing these bodies about the challenges they face."