Mental health: The hidden toll and need for support

15 December 2016

The true impact of mental health related illness on the police service is made abundantly clear in newly released figures.

The data, obtained by ITV News, shows more than a million work days were lost, over the last three years, due to mental health related illness.

Steve White, Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “These figures are eye-opening but not surprising. Increased pressures, reduced officer numbers and tightening budgets create a perfect climate for poor welfare and low morale.”

The findings echo those from a survey done by the Police Federation of England and Wales earlier this year.
That survey, which looked at officer welfare and how this is affected by current demand, showed that the mental wellbeing of police officers was considerably poorer than that of the general public. Nearly two thirds of officers (65%) still went to work even though they felt they shouldn’t because of the state of their mental wellbeing.

Perhaps more worrying, is that almost half (42%) of officers felt they were poorly, or very poorly, supported by the service when they did seek help.

A smaller interview and focus group based project, conducted earlier this year, outlined the issues officers face in accessing support. These included a ‘macho’ culture that inhibited disclosure in the first place, a lack of training for line managers and long waiting lists for counselling and related services.

Steve White said: “Whilst there is support available it’s often inaccessible, inconsistent and inadequate.”
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.

Steve White added: “We’ve taken proactive steps to better understand the issues that exist, but our findings are likely to only be the tip of the iceberg. We will use our evidence to push leaders to improve the support given to their staff because without it we risk them never revealing the true extent of their suffering.”