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Avon & Somerset Police Federation

#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek: We want to see improvement in the provision of metal health support for our colleagues

11 May 2022

“We want to see improvement in the provision of metal health support for our colleagues”

To mark #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, Avon and Somerset Police Federation Chair Mark Loker blogs on the challenges facing Police Officers.

Mark states: “Trauma, including one-time, multiple, or long-lasting repetitive events, affects everyone differently. We need provision for our members that recognises this - and we want to see improvement in the provision of mental health support for our colleagues.

“There are numerous studies that describe how continued exposure to stress will reduce the naturally produced levels of dopamine and diminish rationale thought. The 3 circles model (Gilbert 2019) proposes that we operate in one of three interlinking emotional regulation systems, threat, drive and soothing. 

“The threat system is often dominant for those working in emergency services.  Understandably working in environments full of external threats, trauma, crime, and death, alongside distressed victims and relatives means that this system is going to be active most of the time in my members, evidenced as leading to exhaustion and burnout.

“Currently my Force has no capacity for or process to support proactive Trauma Informed Practise. It is imperative Police Forces become more proactive with their support by stepping in to help Officers who are facing difficulties with their mental health and wellbeing, recognising that pay and working conditions are key foundations in this.

“It breaks my heart that I hear all too often Chief Officers concluding that their Officers have a duty of personal responsibility to be proactive in regards to their mental health and mental wellbeing, but I contend that is ridiculous.

“That notion can only be accepted on the assumption that Officers are aware that they are suffering with a mental ill health and does not take into consideration that society and in particular men of a certain age and generation conform to unrealistic expectations. We have to accept that we live in a culture where men often feel pressure to conform to an unrealistic macho image. The measure of their masculinity seems to have an inverse relationship to the expression of their vulnerability and it is literally breaking them. After all, real men are not supposed to be weak, break down, or cry, isn’t that a convention of patriarchy?

“I do not contend that view as ridiculous, I state that is ridiculous. We are all human, we all suffer as individuals. If somebody climbs on a high platform and doesn’t jump, that is rightly recognised as a cry for help, however when a Police Officer breaks sadly the mental ill health for my colleagues and members is often only recognised by a misconduct investigation and the fear and threat of losing their job.

“It is very well documented that in a lifetime the average member of the public may experience only 3 or 4 traumatic incidents, however the National Police Chiefs Council recognise that Police Officers are likely to encounter up to 600 traumatic incidents in their career, reasonably agreed at a third of a lifetime.

“Nearly 1 in 5 Police Officers in the UK have symptoms consistent with PTSD or complex PTSD, the majority of those Officers are completely unaware of their symptoms. Last year 183 officers in our force were absent for either stress, depression anxiety or PTSD.

“These are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and friends, but only ever highlighted as a number or a statistic.

“Men accounted for three-quarters of suicide deaths registered in 2019, making up 4,303 of the 5,691 recorded deaths by suicide. That figure has to be understood and cannot be dismissed, that is 4,303 fathers, sons and brothers. Some individuals may clearly display criteria associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but many more individuals will exhibit resilient responses or brief subclinical symptoms or consequences that fall outside of diagnostic criteria.

“The impact of trauma can be subtle, insidious and outright destructive, it can never be assumed that without medical recognition that someone is not suffering, yet that is all too often exactly the case.

“Trauma-informed practice recognises the prevalence of trauma and its impact on the emotional, psychological and social wellbeing of people. Awareness of trauma has progressed over the last 20 years, incorporating knowledge from attachment, child development and cognitive memory. Frameworks of practice have changed from purely bio-medical (medicine and psychiatry) and/or purely psychoanalytical (psychology) models to include the psycho-social (trauma-informed) and a recovery focus (recovery-oriented).

“As a Federation we recognise the difficulties our members face getting support and due to that we provide GP on Demand through our group insurance scheme as well as access to Care First and Best Doctors.

“But more needs to be done and that is the responsibility of our Force. Within policing, the duty of care for our Officers sits firmly with the Chief Constable, it should never be delegated. We are fortunate that our Chief Constable recognises this, but even so Chief Officers must prioritise occupational health and human resources to prevent complacency in the provision of support to our members.

“I would urge anyone to encourage any colleagues who they see are struggling to seek support, often peer support is critical to proactively getting support. The NHS https://www.nhs.uk/nhs-services/mental-health-services/get-urgent-help-for-mental-health/ have excellent provision for mental health support, as well as employee assistance programs, Occupational Health and GP services, but anyone who is in doubt or needs help  can get guidance through the link.

“It is critical that wellbeing is placed above operational needs to in fact ensure the success of operational tasks. Afterall if our police officers are not physically and mentally supported this reflects on the delivery of our service to members of public.”