Stress widespread in the police service

13 February 2017


The Federation has long said that the pressures of policing is taking its toll on the service and in-depth analysis on a national survey on officer demand, capacity and welfare, released for the first time today, back this up.  

A 14% fall in officer numbers over a seven-year period from a high of 144,353 in September 2009, to 122,859 in September 2016, is having significant repercussions and directly impacting what police officers are able to deliver, given the demands they face.

Among the findings:

•    66% of officers indicated that their workload was too high
•    67% disagreed or strongly disagreed that they were able to meet conflicting demands
•    35% of officers have been physically attacked (unarmed) at least once per month
•    36% of officers reported being attacked with a weapon at least once in the last year
•    70% disagreed or strongly disagreed that they have enough time to engage in proactive policing
•    67% agreed or strongly agreed that that they often had to work in crisis mode trying to do too much too quickly
•    73% said that their team/unit had a minimum officer staffing level
•    82% of respondents said that they don’t have enough officers in their team/unit
•    53% of officers reported that were ‘Never’ or ‘Rarely’ able to take their full rest break entitlement
•    80% of respondents experienced feelings of stress, low mood, anxiety, or other mental health and wellbeing difficulties
•    Nine out of ten (92%) of these indicated that their psychological difficulties had been caused or made worse by work
•    Only 21% of line managers had received training on supporting colleagues who have disclosed a mental health or wellbeing difficulty
•    42% of respondents reported that they were ‘Poorly’ or ‘Very poorly’ supported by the police service
•    The majority of respondents (59%) have used holiday or rest days to take time off due to the state of their physical health
•    The most frequently cited reason for not seeking help was that officers ‘did not want to be treated differently (negatively)'

Steve White, Chair, PFEW said: “Officers should not be under so much pressure that their health and wellbeing is being compromised.  Stress comes with most jobs but a line must be drawn.  For most officers, policing is a vocation they love - helping their communities and making a difference is what they signed up to do.  

“These results are truly alarming and we need to support and protect our officers who are out there doing a job in incredibly difficult circumstances.”

There were mixed views on the support offered by the police service for officers dealing with mental health and wellbeing difficulties, highlighting an imperative for training and development in these areas.

Mr White also said: “As a federation, we are looking at what further support can be offered to help support our members.”

PFEW’s Welfare Support Programme, involvement with Mind’s Blue Light Programme, and ongoing work with forces and other representative bodies is directly helping officers and paving the way to fill the gaps in support services that can really make a positive difference to officers and their families.  

But this will not work in isolation, fundamentally, officers need to feel that they can speak out when they need help and they can have confidence that the service will treat them with the utmost dignity and discretion to help get them back on track.  These findings are today’s reality and must not fall on deaf ears. 

Faye McGuinness, Blue Light Programme Manager at Mind, said: “We welcome this Police Federation survey data which shines a light on the high prevalence of stress and poor mental health among police officers. These figures reflect our own research which shows a huge proportion of staff and volunteers from across all the emergency services – police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue - are struggling with stress, low mood and poor mental health. We’re particularly concerned that of the 80 per cent of respondents who acknowledged having experienced feelings of stress, low mood, anxiety, or other mental health and wellbeing difficulties, 92 per cent indicated these difficulties had been caused or worsened by work. Employers have a really important role to play in ensuring all police officers are supported physically and emotionally to be at their best when carrying out their often challenging and life-saving roles.

“For the last two years, Mind’s Blue Light Programme has been working with emergency services across England to prioritise the mental health of their staff and volunteers. We’ve helped thousands of staff and volunteers across emergency services in England to actively challenge mental health stigma, learn more about mental health and make positive changes in their approach to wellbeing. Many police forces have proactively engaged with the programme, for example by signing the Blue Light Time to Change pledge to demonstrate their commitment to taking workplace wellbeing seriously, but we still have a long way to go. For the first time this year we have additional funding which will allow us to deliver much-needed support to emergency services staff and volunteers in Wales, as well as extending our existing support to include 999 call-handlers and new recruits.”

More information on mental health