Police Federation

Blog: Wellbeing must be more than just a poster on a wall

7 December 2020

National Chair John Apter

National Chair John Apter

Let’s be honest, police officers can be a cynical bunch; not surprising when you see what society throws at us! But when we talk about wellbeing you can often hear the moans and feel the scepticism. Yet the reality is, wellbeing in policing is very much on the agenda. It’s being talked about across all forces and there are pledges being thrown around all over the place. The fact it’s being talked about is a good thing, it’s important. But, does all this talk actually mean anything?

At a local level there are many good pieces of work going on around wellbeing, whether that’s via the Federation or the force, we shouldn’t ignore how far we’ve come. At a national level the National Police Wellbeing Service was set up, also known as Oscar Kilo. It was set up to help all within policing to understand how to build personal resilience and to feel confident in speaking up when support is needed. It has the Blue Light Wellbeing Framework and uses academic research to show what works and what doesn’t.

Without a doubt, we’re in a much better place than we have been, but is that good work being felt where it’s needed most? Sadly not. There is still a feeling that wellbeing, whatever that means to individuals, is a postcode lottery. For too long wellbeing was just a tick box exercise; to many it hasn’t been as meaningful as it could or should be. This means that sometimes, despite genuine best efforts, the support being offered to somebody won’t be seen as support. Those in need of help often hide away, not wanting to face the issues they have. As time goes on their work could suffer, they may not want to mix with their colleagues and as a result are seen as anti-social and then the issues just get worse and the spiral begins. These officers can often be labelled troublemakers, a sad reflection of the world we live in.

The tone of a force is set by the Chief Constable, their values are felt by all. If they want wellbeing to be a genuine priority, then it will be. Putting posters up about wellbeing doesn’t mean you can tick the box and say job done, you have to invest in it. Our people are our most important and most expensive resource; investing in them and their wellbeing should be an easy decision. I know many forces are doing good things, sadly this is not always felt by those who are in most need the support. We need to understand why this is the case and unblock the blockers; it’s not that difficult.

Policing is a full on job, it’s relentless and 2020 has added to that pressure like never before. Colleagues are knackered, they are working long hours, being vilified in the media for doing an almost impossible job which tests the most resilient of us. The pandemic has affected us all, in one way or another. And if all that wasn’t enough, this doesn’t take into account of what is going on in officers’ personal lives. Police officers are human beings, when they take home the horrors of what they have seen at work it has an impact. Combine that with personal struggles at home and it can be a very unhealthy mix. My message to my colleagues is to recognise you’re not invincible, ask for help if you need it. In those difficult moments it’s easy to think nobody cares, and no one will listen, but they do and they will. There are good people within policing and beyond who can help, you are never alone.

At Christmas those who are struggling can feel incredibly lonely; it doesn’t matter how many people you are surrounded by, that feeling of isolation can be very real and very painful. I’ll be really honest, it will be difficult for me this Christmas. I lost my mum in August, somebody I was very close to and her loss has devastated me. I knew I was struggling so have reached out for help and I’m sure with the support and understanding of my close friends and my family I will get through this, but it doesn’t stop me dreading Christmas. There are many colleagues in a similar position, dreading Christmas for many reasons. It’s important we recognise this and make sure we are there for each other.

It’s been said many times, but it really is okay to not be okay. If you need help and support it is available, please don’t suffer in silence, reach out and the support will be there if you want it. Policing is a tough, challenging and often unforgiving job, this is why it is so important we are there for each other.

I have attached a number of links which may be of help, please ask for help if you need it. You will also have support available via your local Federation and your force's employee support programme if you need it.

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