Police Officers Lack Mental Health Support
A Police Federation survey of 17,000 officers in 2016 showed that 39% were seeking help with mental health issues. More than 25% of officers who have taken sick leave attributed it to stress, depression and anxiety, while 65% said that they still went to work even though they felt they shouldn’t have because of the state of their mental wellbeing.
Mind (the mental health charity) also did a recent study that showed that 5% of the staff and volunteers from police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue services had made an actual attempt to take their lives.
Gary Cable was a Roads Policing and then Firearms Officer with Essex Police. He has retired from the force due to his mental health issues.
“It is predominately a macho environment and Authorised Firearms Officers by their nature are ‘put up, shut up’ type people, and they have to deal with the hardest criminals and terrorists, so you just knuckle down.
The biggest issue is talking about it. We need to break down the barriers and have officers be able to stand up and talk about things and not be ashamed.”
Close to 1 in 5 police officers and staff in the UK have symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) yet over two-thirds are unaware they are suffering. Research conducted by a team of sociologists at the University of Cambridge found that out of 16,857 serving officers, 90% had been exposed to trauma. Out of the 90%, 1 in 5 were experiencing either PTSD or Complex PTSD symptoms.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder where someone may experience sleep disturbance, irregular heartbeats and sweats. PTSD can cause a high-arousal ‘fight or flight‘ response that cannot be turned off or gets switched on inappropriately, such as in nightmares and terrifying flashbacks. Those who suffer from PTSD may also react in an angry or violent matter to something perfectly minor at work or home.
Those who suffer from Complex PTSD may struggle to regulate their emotions and often feel empty and hopeless.
“Dealing with disturbing experiences is a defining part of policing, but employees have a right to expect resources to protect them from the impact of daily trauma exposure. Over half the respondents said they had insufficient time to process incidents before being sent out on the next call” says lead researcher Dr Jess Miller from Cambridge’s Department of Sociology.
It’s also important that relevant managers and HR staff are trained to understand and identify the symptoms of trauma so that they can talk to a staff member and request further help or treatment if necessary. To meet this need, the charity PTSD Resolution runs half-day and full-day courses in TATE (Trauma Awareness Training for Employers).
PTSD Resolution provides online training sessions to individuals and organisations which are designed to teach attendees about the key understandings of trauma and how to both prevent and recover from symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
Overall there should be a raised awareness that anyone could suffer from a mental illness. Police officers of all ranks should be educated on the signs, symptoms and treatment of PTSD –it makes business sense.
University of Cambridge