Blog: Officer wellbeing is priceless

10 October 2018

John Apter

PFEW Chair John Apter

On World Mental Health Day (10 October) Chair John Apter explains why welfare can never be measured in pounds and pence.

The founding father of forensic science Edward Locard said ‘every contact leaves a trace’. He was talking about physical evidence but I think his law can equally be applied to the psychological element too.

Every time an officer deals with a job that experience will leave its mark – some positive, others much more negative. Some last moments, others a lifetime.

One emergency service worker summed it up perfectly recently in a moving social media post where she used the scuffs and damage her boots have suffered as a metaphor for the impact that the job can have on the owner’s mental health.

My members– on a daily basis – face some of the worst that humanity has to offer. And they deal with it competently, compassionately and professionally. They do what must be done.  They go to the ‘hurting places’ as a former colleague described it; and then they move on the next job.

But it takes its toll. In our most recent Demand, Capacity and Welfare research 8 out of 10 officers said they had experienced mental health issues with 9 out of 10 of those saying that these had be exacerbated by their work. That is a staggering figure.

People are any organisation’s best asset. They need to be looked after.

But are police officers looked after?

When austerity bites and cuts have to be made it is often welfare services which are the first to go – but its false economy. Forces may ‘save’ money but the personal ‘cost’ can be huge.

We as a society are getting better at recognising the problem of mental ill-health and we are getting better at dealing with it. But can the same be said of policing?

To an extent yes… but in many ways no. Officer welfare is crucially important – it is one of the fundamental principles of the Federation and it is something I care passionately about.

And its importance is beginning to be recognised elsewhere with it being included as one of the core elements in the new assessment system for police forces.

But what officer welfare must never be is just a tick box on a form. It must be more than just a poster on a wall.

Someone once told me – police officers are like sponges. We soak up all the pain, the hurt, the anger, the emotions that we encounter as part of our job, but we can only take so much before the sponge becomes saturated. We need to metaphorically wring ourselves out otherwise we become ineffective.

If there is no release – no ‘wringing out’ how are officers supposed to cope? Who is safeguarding the safeguarders? Who protects the protectors?

I, and my team at the Federation, will keep fighting to make sure that our members are given all the help and support they need to be able to continue to serve and protect their communities.

So today I urge our senior leaders to shift their view point from the cost of welfare services to the benefit they provide, and I urge everyone to remember that it’s OK not to be OK. And there is nothing at all wrong in asking for help.

I also urge the government, to sooner rather than later, invest in welfare and support for officers - after all, the cost of doing so is far less than the ever increasing sickness bills forces are faced with at the end of every financial year.

Policing is a family – we look out for our brothers and sisters. So look around your team, talk to your colleagues, it can be as simple as asking “Are you OK?”

And take a look at yourself – and ask “Am I OK?”

If not, then today – World Mental Health Day – is the time to do something. Help is there for you, please never be afraid to ask for it.

* For help, information and support regarding Mental Health issues contact our Welfare Support Programme, Mind’s Blue Light Programme or the NHS , alternatively you can call the Samaritans 24 hour a day free on 116 123.