Police Mental Health

I am aware that several forces are reviewing, revising or writing afresh their internal policies on mental ill-health for staff.  Policies about a force’s duty of care towards their police officers and employees.  There are various reasons why this is very, very necessary and arguably overdue.  Like any organisation, the police service will have staff who suffer from stress and anxiety related conditions because of issues at work; and others arising from personal and medical history.  There will be a minority of staff who also have severe and enduring mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, etc..

I am aware from queries over the years that serving officers have been detained by their colleagues under s136 of the Mental Health Act and some police officers have been detained as inpatients in hospitals under the Mental Health Act.  This happens to some members of our general population, including doctors, soldiers, academics – why should we think it wouldn’t happen to some of our police officers and staff?

This is a short post, just to throw around some thoughts that indicate why all senior officers need to consider their policies and approach to staff mental health as well as all of us reflecting again on our attitudes which are reflected in some presumptions –

  • There is a raised risk of mental health disorders within the policing professions – potentially arising from the nature of the work that we do.  Despite this, some forces are having to restrict the amount of occupational health support that they can provide, by restricting counselling to those whose mental health problems arise directly from issues at work.
  • We are currently living in a period of economic austerity – in the second year of a pay freeze which will effectively continue for several years yet as pay and conditions are reformed – the Police Federation will state that they are dealing with more and more officers who are getting into financial difficulties and seeking support for debt management and for issues like family breakdown arising from financial problems.
  • We have seen presumptions by the NHS – that because police officers work in a large organisation with occupational health and counselling support, that less NHS input is needed where there is a diagnosed condition.  Without liaison between the NHS and the police to ensure that this is the case, some officers have fallen in the gaps.
  • We have no specific national charity who champions the mental health issues of our police or our 999 services – there is no equivalent of Combat Stress or Blue Apple Heroes and I know some “999 demand” has drifted their way, in lieu of people or families knowing where to turn.  I know our ambulance service face similar problems for similar reasons.
  • Raised risks overall because the demographic profile of the service – men are less likely to seek help for mental health problems and yet are at far greater risk of committing suicide in age groups which are relevant to policing, like men in their 30s / early 40s.
  • The impact upon people of organisational change programmes – we know that every force is looking at its budget and its service.  As things are rationalised, we see job cuts, pay-regrading for police staff and in some cases, discussion about redundancy including compulsory redundancy.
  • Some people are now responsible for things that used to be more than one person’s job – for example, in some police force areas, the “duty inspector” is responsible for a policing area that is literally twice the size of previous policing areas after boundaries were redrawn.  Certainly what I will be doing this afternoon, used to be two people’s jobs.
  • Training for first and second line supervisors – What training, if any, do sergeants / inspectors and equivalent police staff managers have on mental ill-health identification and support?  I once heard a story that after a police officer was booked sick with a mental health condition, supervisors told colleagues not to make contact with them whilst off.  This was done in good faith for good reasons, but it happened to be the opposite of what the person wanted and it left them feeling isolated.
  • The culture of the police organisation – officers and police staff deal very frequently with calls from the public which involve mental ill-health: around 20% of demand, if not more, is connected to mental disorder.  This tends to be the more acute crises, situations connected to crime and risk or situations where officers wonder about the care that was being offered, or denied, from the NHS.  This colours officers’ attitudes at all levels, as can be reflected in some opinions and approaches to mental health work.

In other words: policing is a profession, especially at the moment, which is ripe for a combination of professional and personal factors which produces a higher than average likelihood that some staff will experience mental distress; just at a point where the organisation is less likely to be able to directly support and where supervisors may not necessarily feel confident in discussing it.  All taken together, it has obvious potential to build towards stress, anxiety and interia that could become a mental health emergency somewhere down the line.

TIPS FOR FRONTLINE SUPERVISORS

Take time and trouble to offer to discuss concerns you may have if you believe staff may have a mental ill-health problem.  Don’t be offended if someone chooses not to and be aware that there could be any number of legitimate reasons why they prefer not to discuss something with you – because you’re their boss.  Be aware of internal support networks, staff associations, third sector providers as well as the ability of individuals to seek help from their GP who then has access to other NHS supports.

Don’t make presumptions about what staff may want – the person who told me their boss had told the team not contact had done something in good faith, presuming it would be preferred, that was the opposite of what they would have hoped for.  A colleague ringing or texting, maybe meeting for a coffee would have been welcome, so be clear about what staff want and need.  Remember that where someone has been diagnosed as having a mental disorder, it becomes covered by Disability discrimination legislation where staff are subsequently entitled to “reasonable adjustments” at work if this facilitates their return to work and the performance of duties.

Finally, it’s just a remark about attitudes and culture: I wondered aloud in a recent meeting about the extent to which our internal attitudes to staff mental health and wellbeing are affected by our professional experience of the jobs we’ve all dealt with, which are often very difficult or frustrating incidents where we see systemic problems in our societies response?  I also wondered what rank in the police service would be the most senior at which someone could be found to say that they have suffered from mental health problems?  If culture and attitudes are to change in a male-dominated organisation with a certain type of operating culture with a demographic and professional profile which places us at higher risk as a group, we could do with some role-models showing that successful careers are not derailed by ongoing battles with mental health problems and start breaking cultural barriers to addressing issues properly.

The two groups in our society whose attitudes have remained fairly entrenched about mental ill-health are the police and mental health professionals.  This needs to change along with the rest of the society in which they operate.


IMG_0053IMG_0052Winner of the President’s Medal from
the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.


 

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29 thoughts on “Police Mental Health

  1. This is a really good issue to raise at this time as Police are put under even greater pressure in their workplace while struggling like other members of the public with the economic pressures on their family life. The recent Time to Change report stated that mental health professionals and Police appeared to have been unaffected by the anti stigma campaigns they have recently run despite a positive impact being reported in society at large. This is a real shame as police officers and staff are not exempt from experiencing mental ill health personally and need support from family and work colleagues to get through it at the same time as being capable of empathising with members of the public experiencing mental health problems.

      1. I’ve served 18yrs in Police . Suffered mental health illness well documented since 2012; however all ignored . Suffered work stress overload, again all documented.
        Federation rep no help. Occupational health corupt breaches of data protection with the SMP. regarding my ill health Police pension. Thinking of going to press.? What do you think ? Police trying to rid Officers to save budgets. What’s happened to me , I’ve been told to do a documentary. The book; Kangaroo Court is mild what’s happened to my family and I by the Police .

  2. When a colleague was absent from their volunteering role for a while, I think everyone assumed our voluntary organisation would be giving them support. We’d been told not to contact them in relation to their volunteer role.

    I decided to text them, as a friend, to check that someone was in touch – no-one was, so I got in touch with someone else and arranged for some support.

    The advantage of texting is that the person can choose not to answer, but know that someone is there for them – I think it helped my colleague, and they are now back in their role.

    I think organisations should have a policy of asking the person what they want in terms of contact, and formally recording this, so that their preferences are recorded – but also have one person who has the responsibility of keeping in “official” contact – ideally someone chosen by the member of staff, as their manager may not be the most appropriate person.

  3. Hiya…it’s really good that this is being discussed and the issues identified. I have 27 days left and then I am medically retired due to complex PTSD as a result of my years in the job. I appreciate the work being done around TRIM however once a problem is identified, then what? Further TRIM doesn’t deal with accumulative PTSD going back however many years. If your lucky you may receive a set amount of CBT, EMDR sessions but in this world of no money, cuts etc…they only go so far. You may get into the NHS system, then the cycle of CBT, medication begins. That only goes so far, then your discharged then what???
    I recommend reading a piece of work called, ‘the curse of the strong’, it is very good…I was always in special operations roles, always the guy to have around,meet things done, strong, robust and resilient…then BANG, the fuse blows and I change forever? The impact on my family has been immense and who’s supporting them?
    Having said all of that, I am pushing to raise awareness of mental health issues affecting police officers, in particular PTSD… Thanks M for all your work

    1. Hi having just read your comments it mirrors what my husband is currently going through with his ptsd and the lack of understanding and support from the police. I as his wife have found it really difficult and heart wrenching at times seeing the strong man I love being treated so badly by the job he has devoted his life to. His ptsd results from a incident that happened some 20 years ago at work. He has battled with things for years only admitting to the police 2 years he was struggling. Our own doctor is really supportive but have found the polices lack of welfare to their officers and their family’s non existent to say the least. I really do t know where to turn and came across you comment. I’d really appreciate if you could give any advice how I can help him or who to turn to for advice many thanks. I hope by now you are retired and able to enjoy life with ur family. Sound like you all have bin through hell. Thanks for reading this From jw wife of serving police officer x

    2. Dave, please could you contact me to discuss your case as I am having hell of a job trying to reason with my force, thanks

    3. Hi Dave,

      Would you be able to contact me, if possible of course, regarding your car of complex PTSD. I’ve had a very hard time the past few years, have been diagnosed with PTSD, which I feel had be caused solely by the force I’m working for, and to,say I have been/ am being ostricised is an under statement.

      ( Ex – Met TX & CO19 and now in Gwent, handed firearms card in due to mental health illness)

      Thankyou and kindest regards

      Dean Cooling

    4. Hi Dave,

      Would you be able to contact me, if possible of course, regarding your car of complex PTSD. I’ve had a very hard time the past few years, have been diagnosed with PTSD, which I feel had be caused solely by the force I’m working for, and to,say I have been/ am being ostricised is an under statement.

      ( Ex – Met TX & CO19 and now in Gwent, handed firearms card in due to mental health illness)

      Thankyou and kindest regards

      Dean Cooling

      1. Dean
        Seems like there are quite a few of us out there. It would be useful to compare notes, for want of a better phrase, with regards to your treatment. Contact me

  4. I am on the last stage of the application process and the sticking point has been the medical. I have two records in my medical history of short periods of depression, one treated with anti depressants for 6 months, and I have a feeling I’m going to get knocked back from the job because of it. “Because of your history you are at significant risk of a relapse”. Neither of these were related to my job, or affected my work in any way – in fact I never had any time off work because of it. I’m not sure how to feel about the potential of being knocked back because of something in my history that I was brave enough to deal with at the time. Hard to explain without getting into specifics but it appears the labels are far more important than the reasons behind the diagnosis.

    Fair? I’m not sure it is.

    1. Neither am I … it should be considered case by case, on merit. Should that happen, I’d ask to discuss it, given the mental health problems have been considered to be a disability in certain circumstances and that disability that this may afford legal rights to protections and reasonable adjustments. Hard to advise without all the information, but it would certainly be worth discussing if your feared outcomes does materialise. End of the day, there are plenty of serving police officers with mental health problems, some at senior level.

      Let me know if I can help once you know and good luck.

      1. Further to to my comment (and a whole host of being messed about further by OHU) they’ve decided they’re “not convinced by (my) robustness to be able to fulfil the role”. I’ve been offered the opportunity to see their clinical psychologist by way of an appeal (that word has not been directly used) for “different kinds of tests”, but I’m not sure how this can be relevant if a decision has already been taken based on all the other info they already have??

        I’d really appreciate your view if you have the time. I’m happy to share details with you as necessary.

      2. Hello

        May i have the outcome of this. A very close friend has been rejected due to being on anti depressants and its broken my heart to think he won’t get in due to a problem he has managed and got help from.

      3. There is no single outcome to this, Ami – there are 43 forces in England / Wales and they have their various methods and criteria for selection and obviously, doctors can give varying advice even in identical situations. I can understand why some individual’s history of mental health problems would be a barrier; others, I’m less clear about. Can only suggest he considers challenging the decision or taking advice about the legality of it, if he remains convinced it is unreasonable.

    2. Ami the outcome was that I was not offered a job. I never took it any further despite being very disappointed and not convinced by the decision as by the time I got the final rejection letter I had had enough of the whole saga. I’m not sure how far I’d have gotten had i “appealed” but ultimately by that stage my partner (who is job) had begun to actively discourage me from taking it any further. I may try again in the future if working conditions improve(!). Sadly it has made me extremely reluctant to visit the Dr again if further mental health issues were to arise in the future as it is viewed so negatively. Good luck to your friend.

  5. Because the police are the locus of a power that punishes people for certain behaviours, some of whom are vulnerable (Eg knife carrying teenage gang member), they are unlikely to receive much sympathy when they are unable to show leadership (being vulnerable), when they get PTSD.
    Many criminals were vulnerable people who went on to commit terrible crimes; they are rarely shown any leniency, so why should the police have special privileges? Few of them can claim special medical treatments. If a man or woman who was severely abused as a child then goes on to murder as an adult, do they get any leniency in the courts? No. So why should the police have treatments which are not available to the general public? So that they can avoid their own imperialism when they would have ended up in prison for violence? So that they can continue to exploit crime producing vulnerabilities in the public environments that provide them with a living?

  6. Conversely, the police service has a duty of care not to expose officers to unwarranted risks, to ensure that officers are fit to do the duties asked of them, and are not accumulating stress, and are being made worse by dismissive attitudes. I guess that some people might worry about their promotion prospects or their capabilities in the eyes of others if they are known to have sought help, so they let problems amass, sometimes fatally.

  7. In 2011 I suffered with what has been described as a “Sudden severe depressive episode”. I was off sick from work for four months. When I returned I did so slowly, but soon realised that I would not be able to cope working full hours again, so I went part time. Over the past few years I have managed work but there are times when I just can’t make it in. I’m not able to fulfil the role of a fully fit operational officer. Plus using annual leave when I’m not able to go to work is not good (due to the sickness policy of the met they would have gone down the unsatisfactory performance route…). I realise that although I have served 14 years, I will now retire later ( Thanks Tom Winsor..) And being still relatively young I would like to get out through Ill health retirement, and try something with less of a negative impact to my mental health. However it seems that nowadays this is seen as almost a taboo subject, with management commenting that it doesn’t happen anymore. I can’t fulfil my role as I am meant to due to my depression and Generalised anxiety disorder, and I don’t want to be put as a stores officer or something like that. It would be helpful to hear from anyone who has been in my position and managed to get I’ll health retirement. Oh and I recently submitted a FOIA request asking how many officers have been retired due to Ill health in the met over the past year, and what the seperate causes were. The reply…This data is not held on one system and it would cost me around £450 for them to check each file. REALLY? So there is no database with this info on, I find that very hard to believe.

    1. Hi

      I retired in February after nearly two years of in fighting with force HR and senior management even to the point when I asked for help I was refused by the counsellors at the time so I went sick. I was then told I let myself and the force down. Joke. After 27 yrs of dedicated service to the police going above and beyond and being awarded a Honorary masters of law. Degree by the University of Leicester and also made the Honorary vice chairman of the students union for the dedicated work I did for students. I was also the chair of PAHELO working along side the HO and NUS in London unpaid and also awarded the beat officer of the year in 2010.

      I have been diagnosed with PTSD following a serious assault on myself some 20yrs ago which has come back to haunt me. The force didn’t believe me although my GP and other NHS departments were treating me for it. I am now still having treatment EMDR therapy etc.

      I have lots of material which may assist you

      You can email me at

      Harveywatson@sky.com

      I use. To be campuscops on twitter if you recall.

      http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/Harvey-best-beat-bobby/story-12079027-detail/story.html

      Sent from my iPad

      >

  8. All that I can say is that when I was in service and had successive joint surgery ops,I was left alone, as it could be seen. if I disclosed absence due to depression, I was subjected to phone calls to te point of harassment nd supervisors inviting themselves to y home and could not understand when I did that as the householder I issue the invites. the reason? it’s invisible and so it must be made up. I stayed for as long as it took to at the house off and took the pension and left with no regrets and without the uncomfortable interview with senior management. Friends tell me that I have lost the haunted look as well ,Funnily enough I never knew what depression was unti I joined WMP.

  9. Having endured a very violent childhood by my father, some assaults which involved being struck with a hammer, rolling pin and other types of abuse, I joined the Army in 1984. After completing 22 years in the same, I was awarded the ‘Poor Mans’ MBE (MSM) for my services to the Crown and retired in 2006. I joined the Police within days of my Military discharge. I’m still serving, having nearly completed 10 years service. 2 years ago I found myself being verbally abused and bullied by my inspector. He had clearly taken an open and obvious dislike to me. He made my life hell. His mannerisms and behaviour reminded me of my fathers, less the violence of course. He scared me and continues to do so. Me, being a man of 48 years old, I am so ashamed. I told my line manager how this was impacting on my life and how I felt suicidal, depressed etc. The DS simply said to ignore him. Some days later, the inspector called me into his office and told me to ‘Man Up’ and to stop being ‘Flakey’. He made it clear to me that he wanted rid of me from his department. I was so ashamed. I now know that I was experiencing all the other negative factors that go with depression, anxiety and long term PTSD. I have dealt with horrors and trauma in childhood, Army and the Police life, like many of my friends and colleagues in the Force, but what This inspector triggered, resulted in me fighting for my life, inside, every day, every night, and re living things I thought I’d forgotten. I spent 18 months at personal expense undergoing CBT with a private counsellor as I didn’t want work knowing how I wasn’t coping, but sadly, it didn’t work. My partner left me in Sept last year after not being able to cope with my condition anymore. Having been my rock, with no-one and no-where to go, I sat on a bridge in London on 13th Dec 14, pondering whether I should jump. For some reason, I just couldn’t do it. Why? I now know it was because I had a little dog at home. Sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I called my boss and said I wasn’t well and I was taken home to my family in the Northeast. The Force didn’t give me any additional help. Now, 10 weeks on, I’ve had 2 phone calls from OHU, basically trying to get me back to work as soon as possible. I have dark thoughts nearly every day, the sheer thought of going back to work in the Police, seeing this Insp or entering a police station, gives me palpitations, feelings of nausea, flashbacks and uncontrollable anxiety. I think the point I’m trying to make is; having given 100% all your life, when you eventually break, the Force, OHU, Fed etc…….. Don’t offer the support nor do they accept any responsibility for how things turn out!
    I have had to go to a Military charity for Veterans (VWALS) in order to seek professional help and fast track into specialist care. They are now my lifeline.
    Lastly, I don’t know if I’ll ever get better, but without the necessary support and guidance from the Police, I’ve no idea if I’ll be required to resign or be sacked due to my mental health. Does anyone know where I really stand in relation to all this?

    1. Dear Colleague ,

      Having read your story I can so relate to you wholeheartedly. I suffered so much through my life and joined the police hoping that I could make a difference and improve people’s quality of life. I gave my life and more to the police service and I did get recognition from the people I was serving, however, years ago I suffered a nasty assault which affected me quite badly, for many years I suffered in silence for fear of ridicule and being seen to be weak. I too contemplated suicide and went for walks to the local canal and considered just jumping in but I didn’t. As soon as I opened up and asked for help doors were slammed in my face I was accused of letting myself down and letting my colleagues down OHU just like you just wanted me back to work having gone sick. I have been diagnosed with PTSD by my GP and also specialist counsellors in the NHS I have had .CBT therapy didn’t work EMDR therapy didn’t work federation didn’t really do a great deal to support and I had to see a SMP who refererred me to a psychiatrist who said I didn’t have PTSD but a installed hatred for the service . What a fing joke. I eventually was given ill health retirement but not before being removed from a job I loved, chastised, accused of being a wife beater etc.

      The police service refuse to accept that PTSD exists

      Harvey .

      1. Shuan

        I echo the thoughts and advice given by others within this forum. Can I just say, don’t get bogged down in the politics, but do go head on, into getting better. I hope this sorry tale will give you a taster of where you sit, within the scale of things. As an ex squaddie I can wholeheartedly say, this isn’t the army and nobody really cares. Put yourself first. If you are sick. Go sick. Don’t be proud. You wont get any medals for destroying yourself for ‘The Job’. If you wish to discuss this further then contact me on
        bluetrauma@me.com
        In the meantime something which may be of interest to you is a piece by an Australian and Vietnam Vet Nic Fothergil. You should be able to pick up his video on You Tube. Search under Youre not in the Forces now. Watch it.
        Mucker you are not alone and during my journey I have found loads of Cops who suffer from PTSD and other mental health conditions.
        Take Care
        Bob

  10. If it helps send me an email and I’ll call you. I’ve had almost a mirror problem as yourself, ex military, long service and bullied by an inspector who, quite frankly I despised and still do due to how ill he made me, thankfully Ive now left the appalling service behind

  11. Hello, I have just found this blog and can relate to comments made by colleagues. I have been a serving officer for 27 years. I was diagnosed with PTSD 12 years ago, those initial months and years suffering the effects of the illness were the worse days of my life. I remember being petrified at work once the PTSD took hold. What I read now with interest is the little has changed for other suffers within the police service. I too couldn’t tell anyone of my suffering through fear of loosing my job. Constantly juggling the effects of ptsd with trying to cope and knowing inside that you are not the same person anymore. Feeling weak and afraid and not being able to understand what is happening to you. Contending with supervision who see your weakness but rather than offer support make it their business to bully you as if it gave then a measure of gratification. Years later I still have a degree of PTSD flashbacks etc but it has lessened over the years, there is no quick fix for overcoming symtoms, time helps. It would Make a massive difference if the police service and individual forces had a sympathetic system of care for officers suffering any mental health condition. It’s incomprehensible that a service which provides first response to all types of threatening and horrific incidents have nothing in place to look after its officers. Reality is we really are just numbers. Expect nothing different and you won’t be disappointed. I don’t know whether there is an equivalent to combat stress for Police officers, I’m sure our experiences would be similar. If there isn’t, why isn’t there? To all the officers suffering on these blogs, don’t give in, time is a healer…

  12. First thought – there are many good and honest Police, guessing those were mentally stable also, I met a couple. The problem is the others. If you came upon a Police Officer getting an ass whoopin’ – would you help? Well, first lets ask this Police a few questions before continuing with the whoopin’. Were you just caught breaking the law the rest of us expect to live by? Do you have a friend on the Police force that breaks the “laws” regularly? Did you make up a reason to stop that beautiful woman you noticed just within the last year? Simple questions: Yes or No ______. In a small rural community I grew up in, (seriously not city slicker, dumb ass, sexual predator, liar, scum of the planet, mentally and physically slow, untrained, paranoid , fearful) there were approximately 4 out of 100 children that would scare the shit out of WE THE PEOPLE if they became any form of “Law Enforcement”! Soo, What kind of person, do our “States” have employed as Police Officers? WE THE PEOPLE can decide how to test and train “Law Enforcement” I’d suggest we do just that. Clear enough?

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