Force treatment of mental illness ‘must change'

18 May 2016

Signing the Mind pledge

PFEW Chair signing the Mind pledge to challenge mental health stigma

A change in the way the police service tackles mental illness has been called for at annual conference today, following a damning survey which revealed the sheer scale of the problem.

The survey of around 17,000 officers from the 43 forces in England and Wales found that 65% still went to work even though they felt they shouldn’t have because of the state of their mental wellbeing on one or more occasion. In addition, 39% felt that their mental health problems were such that they sought help.

Che Donald, the Federation's lead on officer welfare and mental health, told delegates about officers who had been ‘broken’ because of the way their mental illness had been dealt with by their force.  He said the only way for the Police Federation to make the best case for change was to carry out the survey to build a true picture of the situation. “Without this, nothing will change and officers and their families will continue to suffer,” he said.

During Mr Donald’s presentation, a series of powerful and shocking films were shown in which officers revealed their treatment at the hands of their force when they suffered a mental illness. One officer said: “It’s not that the police care enough. They don’t care at all.”

Another officer, a former soldier suffering combat stress, was told by health practitioners that the way he had been treated by the force made his condition far worse. One officer said that the understanding didn’t seem to be there and when she attempted suicide after being turned down for ill health retirement, she was described almost as if she was acting like “a petulant child”.

Mr Donald told delegates that the current situation could no longer be tolerated. The session ended with PFEW Chair Steve White signing the Mind Blue Light Time to Change pledge (pictured) to commit to challenge mental health stigma and promote positive wellbeing within the police service. Faye McGuiness, Blue Light Programme Manager at Mind told delegates that the initiative was already having a positive impact. There are now 312 Blue Light champions across the service and 82 of them trained to give peer support. More than 2,500 police line managers have received training and 320,000 booklets on different mental health conditions have been sent out to all forces in England and Wales. She said: “We are working closely with forces and we have achieved a great deal in terms of reducing the stigma around mental health and raising awareness.”