Will Dogs Start Supporting the Wellbeing of Police Officers?
Close to 1 in 5 police officers have symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) according to research conducted by the University of Cambridge.
Those in the police service sometimes have to deal with difficult scenarios on the job and therefore, are sometimes exposed to trauma. They have recently found that dogs can help with stress and mental health of those in the emergency services after experiencing a traumatic event.
“Over recent years, police forces have recognised the value of dogs in helping staff with their wellbeing. When a dog is introduced to the workplace, the atmosphere changes and people want to interact with the dog. This interaction can provide light relief and the dogs help get people talking and create expressions of genuine feeling just by being friendly and non-judgemental”, Sergeant Garry Botterill, Wellbeing and Trauma Support Dog Project Lead.
There are charities that visit those in police, ambulance services and armed forces with the wellbeing dogs to help with mental health issues and work stress. These charities include Service Dogs UK, Canine Concern and OK9 Network.
Oscar Kilo created the OK9 Network (Oscar Kilo Nine Network). The project initially began with a handful of police forces but now OK9 Network currently has representation from 30 UK Police Forces and Fire & Rescue Services across the country. These dogs are an idea of helping officers and staff with their wellbeing.
Interacting with the dog can increase oxytocin levels in the brain, resulting in a sense of calm, comfort and focus. It also helps naturally lower cortisone levels and in doing so reduces feelings of stress and anxiety. The wellbeing dog handlers are also mental health first aiders or trained peer supporters who are ideally placed to listen, enable difficult conversations and provide support if required.
“Having a dog around does a great deal for morale and mental health. When you are having a bad day at work just taking the time to pet her and take your mind off work makes you feel so much better. Holly is a delight, the positives of having her around are immeasurable”
Police officers and staff often find they are struggling with their mental health and these interactive sessions with the dog provide light relief from the job. These charities hope to help with:
- Reducing stigma around seeking help and support
- Improving personal resilience and self-help skills
- Improving morale and engagement- how people feel at work
- Improving and building on the police service reputation as a good place to work
“The dogs are desperate for ‘work’ and to feel needed. It’s a win-win situation for the volunteers, the dogs and the people we visit”, says Valerie Fillery, from Canine Concern.