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Mental health - the human cost of austerity

On World Mental Health Day 2019, President Paul Griffiths reveals the results of a recent survey into the resilience of members and the impact austerity is having on the wellbeing of the policing workforce:

“World Mental Health Day gives us the chance to talk about something which should really be a part of daily discussions.  Whilst I recognise the challenges some might have with discussing personal mental health problems; as a society, we are finally getting better at talking about this sensitive area.
Where we are struggling, is breaking down those barriers within the workplace and creating an environment where people can have the confidence to talk about issues affecting them.  This is especially so within policing. 
We work in a Service based on responsibility, duty and care for others.  In a perfectly working system this would come with an expected level of emotional strain.
But we are not in a perfectly working system.  Far from it – we’re working in a system that is buckling under pressure, where individuals are bearing the weight of increased demand, responsibility and public scrutiny – and where the resulting emotional strain is becoming untenable.
Since 2009 we have been surveying our members to understand the pressures they face, the impact this has on their resilience and what this means for their health.  This year’s results continue the pattern of decline we have seen over the last 10 years and show the stark effects of years of austerity on our members’ mental wellbeing.
 This year’s survey showed that:

  • On average our members work 53 hours per week
  • Almost three quarters said their workload had increased in the last 12 months
  • 63% felt stress, low mood, anxiety, or mental health difficulties 
  • 92% of these respondents said these difficulties had been caused or made worse by work.

This shows a decline in wellbeing which we can’t ignore.  Our members are the senior operational leaders, so a level of pressure and increased responsibility is expected, but we cannot accept this continuing decline.

Our ranks are not unique in this picture.  We are seeing the mental strain of today’s policing having its toll across the Service.  We know that 1 in 5 police officers experience some form of PTSD and that nationally, we need to implement our mental health strategy in policing to respond to this worrying trend – something we strongly support. Responding to this issue will not be simple, but now is the time to introduce changes that will make a huge difference to the people who keep our communities safe.
Our Police Forces need staff who trust and believe that speaking about mental health pressures will be welcomed and encouraged.  Currently, 36% of our members use annual leave when they are unwell, which we can assume is a reflection of a culture in which they are not supported in recognising any kind of personal challenge.
We should lead by example, and if our own members, who carry the responsibility of managing thousands of operational and support staff, feel they cannot show the reality of their own mental wellbeing, we cannot expect the workforce to do the same.
Additionally, we must address the incredible workloads that our members and many others now face.  We have brought the evidence of our working hours to the NPCC and to the Home Secretary and we have been repeatedly told that this issue will be addressed.  

We need to reach a point where ‘resilience’ can become a term used to describe a characteristic we need in extremes, not how our workforce copes with the reality of daily policing.”