11 January 2019
We often joke about the January blues – divorce lawyers say this is the month when the numbers of couples starting proceedings peak, and it’s also a boom time for holiday bookings.
But as tragic news continues to filter in about officers losing their lives over the festive season and beyond, we all need to remain vigilant to the warning signs, both for fellow officers and ourselves.
As a Federation, we hope that we are making headway with spreading the message that it’s OK not to be OK, and that seeking help is not a sign of weakness.
But the sad reality is that officers continue to fall through the net, leaving not only devastated families and friends in their wake, but also severely affecting their colleagues and the wider policing community too.
Heart-breaking messages on social media and emails from friends and colleagues have been appearing over the past few days throughout the 999 family, showing the extent of their anguish. Whether it’s true or not, these tragedies seem even more poignant at this time of year, at a time when others are celebrating with their loved ones.
And officers may already be at their lowest ebb, tired and working unsocial hours away from their own families, dealing with increased demand and violence in the run-up to Christmas and the New Year.
In a few weeks’ time, two new key pieces of research will give a more accurate picture of why officers may be feeling quite so bleak.
Our latest Demand, Capacity and Welfare survey, unveiled next month, will demonstrate that officers are feeling far more fragile today than when they were last quizzed in 2016.
Workloads, stress levels, assaults on officers, mental health and wellbeing have all been put under the spotlight as well as the amount of managerial support on offer.
While managerial support appears to be improving, that is one of the few beacons of hope in an otherwise dismal landscape. Because, in most other categories, the results are showing that officers are much more vulnerable now than they were two years ago.
The extensive work carried out by the Federation on this topic has resulted in key stakeholders within policing joining with us on four recommendations to improve the lives of officers. It has also attracted significant interest from the medical community including the British Psychological Society and the Society of Occupational Medicine.
Another piece of ground-breaking research by the PDT and Cambridge University, which I will speak about at our Roads Policing Conference later this month, shows the extraordinary extent of mental distress experienced by police officers compared with other professions for the first time.
We already know that repeated exposure to traumatic, life-changing events leaves emotional scars and behavioural issues, but what we haven’t realised it quite how dire the picture is for police officers, and now we have the scientific evidence to prove it.
Studies like these help to underline the Federation’s work in helping to promote the importance of officer mental health and spread awareness about the causes, and what can be done to address the issues.
But they don’t replace the helping hand of humanity. So make this your New Year’s resolution: stay safe and look out for your mates. And if you start to struggle yourself, don’t be too shy to talk to someone. We have stood in your shoes and know what you are going through.
*There are a number of support services available. The Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hrs a day on 116 123 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org The mental health charity Mind run their own Blue Light Programme and we support the Welfare Support Programme for officers who have been suspended from duty or and going through a Post Incident Procedure.