Belinda Goodwin, PFEW's Wellbeing lead introduces Mental Health Awareness Week and talks about the Federation's ongoing mental health and suicide prevention campaign Hear 'Man Up', Think 'Man Down'.
This week, 18-24 May, marks Mental Health Awareness Week. It’s a timely reminder of the importance of taking steps to strengthen and protect our mental health, and of being there for those around us.
This year the week has particular significance - all of us will be feeling a greater mental strain than usual. More than four in five Britons are worried about the effect that coronavirus is having on their life, more than half say it has caused high levels of anxiety and has affected their wellbeing.
Now, these levels of anxiety are normal and, according to several professionals, may even be a healthy sign that we are thinking about, connecting with and caring for others more.
But they don’t account for the very real dangers being faced by colleagues on the frontline, who are constantly at risk of being exposed to the infection, and who are being coughed and spat at on the streets by people claiming to have the virus.
Throughout this week we will be providing advice and tips from experts on everything from Mental Health First Aid to diet and sleep, designed to help you and those around you. Most of us go to the gym or eat healthily to improve our physical health. Few of us know what to do to improve our mental health. That needs to change.
We will also be promoting the theme of this years’ Mental Health Awareness Week – kindness – by encouraging you to share acts of kindness officers that have performed or received.
For the Police Federation, the issues of mental health and wellbeing isn’t something we only think about for one week a year, or during a crisis. Our members put their physical and emotional health at risk daily: officers deserve clear legal protection, to be given the right tools and support to help build resilience, and the best care possible in the event of injury.
Our ‘Hear Man Up, Think Man Down’ campaign, launched earlier this year, continues to push for that support. As well as bringing together and highlighting resources which can help protect mental health, we want to bring about real changes in processes and procedures to make sure officers are supported when they are at their most vulnerable.
The response so far has been positive, but I know the name is (deliberately) provocative and may raise a few eyebrows. The fact is, I regularly hear colleagues of both genders being told to ‘Man Up.’ It’s part of the police vocabulary as much as the phonetic alphabet or acronyms like ABH. Its shorthand. Some people would argue that it’s not politically correct. It’s the campaign name precisely because I want us to draw attention to the possible consequences of this everyday phrase and stop people using it!
I want to stop it, not because as a female officer I’m offended that we are using ‘man’ instead ‘people’ or ‘person,’ but because its dismissive of someone and their concerns, issues or problems. That person you just told to ‘man up’ – or one of the many other phrases we have like ‘pull your socks up,’ “pull yourself together,” or “get a grip” - may have needed help. Something as simple as a phrase heard in police stations across the country “man up” can add to a culture that makes it harder to talk about mental health and harder for officers in need to ask for help. The tragic fact is that officers are taking their own lives every year. If all our colleagues knew they weren’t alone, that there was another way, that others had been there and found their way back, there is a chance we could save a life.
I’m not saying that we need to all be touchy feely! Banter always was and should be part of the camaraderie of being a copper. But I want to draw attention to the damage these everyday phrases can cause.
Hear Man Up, Think Man Down is a campaign I believe can do a huge amount of good. If we can reach one officer, reassure them that there is more to mental health than willing yourself to ‘man up’; change policies to make sure a single officer who faces losing everything is properly supported; give one worried colleague or family member the tools to start a conversation, I’ll be happy. This campaign aims to make positive changes in policing. We all have a part to play and as the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week makes clear, we must all show a little more kindness: and think before we use phrases like “man up”.