Security Guards Lack Mental Health Support

In the spring of 2020 researchers at Portsmouth University found that 40% of security guards in the UK were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), after being exposed to verbal and physical abuse.

40% of 750 workers were showing symptoms of PTSD. The research also showed that:

  • 6% suffered verbal abuse at least once a month (50% of these were as often as once a week)

  • 43% reported threats of violence at least once a month (10% were getting threatened daily)

  • More than 30% reported some kind of physical assault in the workplace once a year. (Almost 10% reported a minor physical assault at least once a month)

“With 40% of those surveyed exhibiting symptoms of PTSD, it leaves a very clear message that the issue of mental health is not currently being taken seriously by security managers,” says Professor Mark Button, Professor of Criminology in the Institute of Criminal Justice.

There is talk in the security industry about the issue of mental health, but many organisations still struggle to understand what they need to do to protect their staff from the effects of trauma.

Everyone reacts differently to a disturbing event and we can never predict how someone will feel. Short term it is normal for people to react with feelings of shock, anger, distress and disrupted sleep, for example. However, when these negative symptoms persist it may result in PTSD.

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, a ramification all security managers should be aware of as it can lead to inappropriate reaction by security personnel to what to others would be minor incidents.

Sufferers may turn to alcohol or drugs to dampen their response and may avoid getting help from their GP as they will fear it impacting future job prospects.

“The nature of the work often means security staff have little control over the demands of their work environment which is a high-risk factor for job stress. Male-dominated industries such as the security industry are particularly at risk because men are less likely than women to take action if they’re having a rough time” says Kate Carnell, CEO of beyondblue, a mental health organisation. 

There is still a massive stigma around those who suffer from mental illness as being weak and this stigma is often worse for those in industries like security. Some people may struggle to come forward and disclose their mental health struggles. Displays of emotional responses to work-related scenarios are often regarded as the person being weak or not fit to work their job.

Most trained staff will adapt over time and come to terms with what has happened. Post-event debriefing is becoming regarded as essential and should allow everyone involved to get the help they need.

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. Security guards of all ranks should be educated on the signs, symptoms and treatment of PTSD –it makes business sense.

In an emergency, for an immediate response, call 999 or the Samaritans on 116 123; or contact your GP, crisis team or A&E.

PTSD Resolution
Security Solutions
University of Portsmouth   


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