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It's World Mental Health Day - how are you?

Monday, 10 October 2016


Our lead on mental Health, Ché Donald, encourages us all to ask our colleagues and friends 'how are you?' more often and especially today, World Mental Health Day.

For many people, today is just Monday. The start of the working week for some, perhaps the end of the working week for others, however for the majority, it’s just Monday.

Hopefully a lot of you will have been informed through your work, the news, Facebook or Twitter feeds that this Monday is special. Today is World Mental Health Day, recognised by the World Health Organisation every year on the 10th October.

For some recognising the significance of today, it may bring about a moment of personal reflection, raised awareness or even perhaps the offer of assistance or help to someone suffering with mental health.  For me it involves writing this blog, remembering the struggles I have had with mental health along with that of my colleagues, family and friends and hopefully raising some awareness of it.

You see mental health is indiscriminate – forget about your sex, race, and religion or in fact any protected characteristic. It is blind to your successes, hunger to your failures and an unwelcomed guest to trauma or your lows. It affects 1 in 4 people, though those in emergency services are twice as like to suffer with mental health issues and with police officers spread so thin in recent years but demand remaining the same, or even increasing in certain areas, it’s no wonder sickness levels are increasing, particularly for those with psychological problems.

I recall when I was filming interviews for our conference this year in relation to our mental health input, one particular officer said something very poignant when talking about the help he received from his force. He said ‘It’s not that they care, it’s that they don’t care at all’. That response is shocking; it wasn’t said in anger but rather in disappointment and defeat. He was seeking help, seeking assistance and saying ‘Help me, I need support’ a brave step to take when so many suffer in silence, yet felt defeated by the response he got. That surely can’t be acceptable or allowed to take place.  Yet the more people I speak to, the more I realise that his feelings and experiences are echoed across the country.

Are we as a police service getting any better? Yes is the short answer but we are nowhere near where we should be or can be. The stigma associated with mental health in policing is being tackled and improving. Slowly but surely the message is getting across, particularly with the help of the MIND Blue Light Programme and Blue Light Champions now in forces – PFEW signed the Mind Blue Light Time to Change pledge to commit to challenge mental health stigma and promote positive wellbeing within the police service at conference this year. One has to remember though that the biggest expense to any police service is its wage bill, the officers and staff who deliver policing to the public – the protectors. This makes them the most important asset to policing, more important than buildings, equipment, IT systems and tactics.  Without the people the service cannot be delivered.

While I hate the use of the term ‘customers’ being used anywhere in policing (ask me about that on another day), Richard Branson delivers an excellent business quote: ‘If you look after your staff, they will look after the customers. It’s that simple.’ Yet in policing, one of the first areas hit by austerity measures were the Occupational Health Departments, often seen as soft target for cuts. So those departments designed to look after the staff have been systematically removed or replaced with often inferior cheaper solutions.

On a positive note however, the Welfare Support Programme (WSP), introduced by PFEW and the Police Firearms Officers Association (PFOA), is really having a positive impact on our members. This is a confidential 24/7 service available to our members, run by retired officers and their families and can be accessed by contacting your local federation. There are currently in excess of 300 officers being supported by the programme. I am also aware of at least two recent occasions where the WSP intervened in saving the lives officers who were attempting suicide. A truly remarkable achievement and a credit to the WSP.

Owing to the successes of WSP, plans are currently afoot with a view to expanding this service.  This will only serve to benefit our members and support them when they need it most.

We must not however forget that all chief officers have a duty of care to look after their staff and any scheme that a staff organisation comes up with should not let them abdicate their responsibility. The WSP was set up to look after members that were at risk of falling through the cracks in what policing already offers.

In the current bubble of policing that we are all caught up in, with increased demand, depleted resources, austerity extending to work and personal finance, it’s understandable that doing this job will take its toll more so now than ever. All this without even talking about the role itself, the exposure to trauma, the impact of dealing with the depravities of crime, not to mention the realities of abuse and assault directed at us.

I recall recently seeing on Twitter that an officer made a point of asking every one of his extensive team that day, how they were. This may seem to some like a pointless task however, I ask you, when last did your supervision or management take the time to genuinely ask how you are? Or when in fact have you taken the time to genuinely ask a colleague how they are? Sometimes the little things can make a difference, in this bubble where sometimes it feels like everything and everyone is against you, someone showing you genuine compassion and care can make a huge impact. Not only that, it may actually invite a reply and a request for help and support.

The large majority of us who join policing do so out of altruistic principles, the selflessness desire to help others. Sometimes those who need help are sitting right next to us rather than those we are dealing with through the course of our duties.

If you take anything away after reading this, apart from being informed it’s World Mental Health Day, I encourage you to take a moment out of your day and have a chat or coffee with a colleague. To plagiarise a regular Twitter commentator Commander John Sutherland ‘Somewhere out there today, someone in policing will make a difference by doing just that.’

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