Following the Emergency Services Show at the NEC in September, we spoke to Mahbu Rahman, Blue Light Programme Manager at Mind charity, about mental health issues among police officers...
A recent Mind survey of over 1,000 current or former staff or volunteers within the police force found that 93% had experienced stress, low mood and poor mental health at some point while working for the emergency services. Over 61% had experienced a mental health problem – such as depression, anxiety disorder, OCD, PTSD, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia – while working or volunteering in their current or previous role.
It’s not just about making arrests but keeping people safe – police are often the first to deal with someone experiencing a mental health crisis. Police do a hugely challenging job assessing the situation quickly. If things don’t go as expected, officers can face a huge amount of guilt. Similarly, witnessing traumatic events can have a lasting impact on mental health. Mental health liaison services have been really effective in helping ease the pressure on police. There’s a plan to have mental health liaison services in every A&E by 2020-21.
Mental health support
Regular exposure to trauma comes with the job, and many police officers will find that they’re able to deal with it without developing more complex problems, such as post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, lots of police tell us that it’s not necessarily a large- scale traumatic event that can trigger issues, it can sometimes be a drip-feed approach so that something relatively small could instigate more severe problems and be the point at which they decide to ask for support.
We know that it can be difficult for police and other 999 staff to open up if they’re struggling with their mental health, often because of concerns that they’ll no longer be deemed fit to practice. But people with mental health problems – including our hard-working emergency services personnel – can and do carry out their roles to a high standard. They just may need more support, or temporary changes to their responsibilities.
Through Mind’s Blue Light Programme, we are helping train managers in better spotting the signs and symptoms of poor mental health in their co-workers. We are also doing some work with new recruits - trying to better prepare them for the roles that lie ahead – including building resilience so they feel more comfortable handling day-to-day challenges.
Cuts in public services
We hear from Blue Light workers that the causes of poor mental health within their roles are many and complex, but cuts and understaffing can understandably take their toll on staff wellbeing. Other frequently cited causes of stress include long or unsociable working hours, difficult relationships with colleagues and regular exposure to difficult, traumatic or upsetting situations.
We certainly hear anecdotally of lots of people considering leaving the job or retiring early, for example, and unmanageable stress is often mentioned as a contributory factor. But we’re working with organisations and bodies to help ensure that 999 staff and volunteers are as well supported and resilient as possible in order to thrive in their challenging, life-saving roles that are so easily taken for granted.