Police Federation

Mental health crisis in policing: Whose responsibility is it?

With growing evidence police officers are struggling more than ever with their mental health, Wellbeing Lead Belinda Goodwin speaks frankly about the dire situation, and who the onus is on to make sure officers are being supported before they become too ill to work.

30 January 2023


This a question that we have asked ourselves. Police officers are exposed to around 400 to 500 incidents of trauma throughout their policing careers, which could amount to a couple of times per shift - or once per set of shifts at the very least. As police officers, we do a job like no other. We are often the first port of call to risk to life.

In order to support emergency life savers, we are always called to attend violent situations if a member of the public is having a mental health crisis or when someone has been assaulted. We attend fire safety calls and have ran into burning buildings to save lives. It is what we do. Our main job is to uphold the law and protect the public - this is on top of everything else and we do it without fear or favour. It is what we joined the job to do, to change people's lives and to protect people from those who wish them harm.

All of this does come at a cost to our physical and mental health.

What has become evident over the last 20-plus years is the impact these risks are having – more on our mental wellbeing, and I feel we have reached tipping point. In the past year, police officers were off work with mental health conditions for 571,000 days – the equivalent of 1600 officers being off for a year. Some forces have seen a 40 per cent rise since 2019.

There is a growing crisis of the wellbeing and mental health of police officers, with more than eight out of 10 (82 per cent) indicating they had experienced feelings of stress, low mood, anxiety or other difficulties with their health and wellbeing over the last 12 months, representing another increase in comparative figures, according to the findings of our latest Pay and Morale Survey. The statistical data continues to build, and these two findings only scratch the surface of what has been discovered by us, and by reputable professors and doctors, including those who work at the University of Cambridge.

Officer demand is also through the roof - clearly evidenced in our survey, which found an alarming number of respondents (88 per cent) did not feel they had enough officers to manage the demands being made on them as a team or unit.

New recruits are leaving as quickly as they have joined, assaults on police officers are at an all-time high, and some of our colleagues have committed horrific crimes that have impacted officer morale and public confidence. The Government does not seem to understand or care as investment in policing has not been there for more than 10 years which is reflected in our pay packets. Police suicides are rising and all of this, backed by many other factors, is impacting policing.

So, what happens when an officer becomes aware, or when their colleagues become aware, they are acting differently and showing signs of anxiety or just generally not feeling quite right? The duty of care for police officers always lies with the chief constables and the commissioners, but what if they are not aware? I feel that we do have a personal responsibility to disclose, to get the right support from the force, and, if needed, receive medical intervention, but I do draw the line around prevention.

Now is the time to prevent, now is the time to invest in police officers’ mental health, and now is the time to do this at recruitment. Are you mentally fit to do this job? Is this being monitored regularly? Is your exposure to trauma being collated? Let us get this right and let us all be responsible for doing this – including us as a Federation.

We are continuing to have discussions at the table with police chiefs to ensure our members get the very best welfare provisions which focus on supporting officers before they reach breaking point - because prevention will always be better than cure. We are working on what tangibles are going to be in the Police Covenant around this and we are going to be launching a mental health campaign in the near future that will put mental health wellbeing firmly on the agenda.

Our Welfare Support Programme is also continuing to offer a wide range of confidential and independent services from clinical assessments to counselling with fully trained and accredited professionals.

At least 500 members are being given timely, ongoing support from Defence Medical Welfare Service (DMWS) who has provided provisions of the WSP since December 2020, and the feedback we have received has been massively positive.

If you are a subscribing PFEW member and would like more information, please contact your local Federation branch.

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