Mental Health in the Police

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Prioritising Mental Health in the Police

Unfortunately, mental health in the police is something that has been neglected for a long time. Startling statistics persist in underscoring this reality, painting a bleak portrait of the present condition of those who have pledged to safeguard and serve entire communities. 

While being a police officer can be a rewarding job, it can be extremely mentally taxing as well. With every assignment comes the possibility of witnessing something that can be disturbing. There are incidences of child abuse, suicide, domestic violence, officer-involved stabbings/shootings, and more that can be a regular part of the job. Over time, it leaves a nasty emotional mark.

Police

Whether you serve in a law enforcement, court, or corrections setting, understanding the challenges police officers face is vital to deepening your impact and making positive change. 

Why Mental Health is Important in the Police

Mental health is all about our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It shapes our thoughts, feelings, and actions, impacting how we deal with stress, connect with others, and make decisions. Strong mental health empowers us to thrive at work, navigate life’s challenges, and enrich our communities. 

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the current state of mental health in the police: 

  • About 1 in 5 police officers and staff in the UK showcase symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, but over two-thirds of them are unaware about it.  
  • A greater number of police officers and police staff in the UK are currently reporting high levels of emotional fatigue. This has also led to a spike in the intention to quit the police force.  
  • Both police officers and police staff are feeling less valued by their organisations because of the lack of support for their wellbeing.
 

Clearly, it doesn’t look great.  

In the challenging realm of police work, prioritising mental health is crucial. Police officers often face high-stress scenarios, traumatic incidents, and intense public scrutiny. Without the right mental health support, these pressures can heighten their likelihood of developing mental illness. 

We should also mention that police are often called to help deal with extreme mental illness situations because someone in an emergency may be a risk to themselves or others. Without proper understanding of mental health themselves, they won’t be able to appropriately and safely help people in these situations.  

Promoting mental health in the police is about more than just treating mental illnesses that may emerge. It’s about fostering a supportive work environment where officers feel empowered to prioritise their well-being as well as those around them. By doing this, we can build a stronger, more resilient police force ready to serve their community with excellence. 

Risk Factors When Working in the Police

Working in the police force is inherently demanding, without a doubt. There’s a wide range of risk factors that can significantly impact mental health in the police. Understanding these risks is essential to help build a supportive environment within the force. 

Exposure to Trauma: Police officers frequently encounter traumatic events, such as accidents, violent crimes, and fatalities, which can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

High-Stress Work Environment: When working in the police, you always have to be ready for any situation, exposing you to a higher level of daily stress. Chronic stress poses a significant challenge to mental health in the police force, with profound effects. Officers may battle symptoms like anxiety, depression, irritability, and focus issues, escalating to severe mental health conditions, such as PTSD. The demanding nature of police work often leaves little time for officers to recover between high-pressure situations, worsening the issue. 

Physical health is also jeopardised by chronic stress, contributing to cardiovascular problems, weakened immunity, and digestive issues. For police officers, these health concerns can lead to more sick days, decreased performance, and even premature retirement. 

Unpredictable Nature of Work: Policing is a profession filled with unpredictability, posing significant implications for the mental well-being of officers. From minor disturbances to serious crimes, they must swiftly respond to various incidents, often without warning. The constant uncertainty of each call keeps them in a state of heightened alertness and stress, leading to mental exhaustion over time. 

Unpredictable work settings bring a major challenge: the absence of routine and control. Police officers face sudden shifts, long hours, and being called in at odd times. This irregularity messes with sleep, heightens burnout, and links to mental health struggles like anxiety and depression. The weight of staying alert constantly and making quick decisions in high-stress moments is immense. 

Shift Work and Long Hours: Irregular working hours, including night shifts and overtime, disrupt normal sleep patterns, which can contribute to chronic fatigue and exacerbate mental health issues.

Other Factors to Consider

Violence and Threats: The risk of physical harm or threats to personal safety is a daily reality for many officers. This constant state of alertness can take a toll on mental well-being, causing ongoing anxiety and hypervigilance. 

Witnessing Death: Handling fatalities, both accidental and intentional, can result in long-term emotional distress. 

Critical Incidents: Events like terrorist attacks or mass shootings have a profound impact, often leading to conditions such as PTSD. 

Organisational Stress: Factors such as inadequate support from superiors, unrealistic workloads, and limited resources can create a stressful work environment, leading to feelings of frustration, helplessness, and low morale. 

Public Scrutiny and Criticism: Police officers often operate under intense public scrutiny, which can lead to a sense of isolation and impact self-esteem. Negative public perception and media criticism can further affect their mental health. 

Lack of Support Systems: Limited access to mental health resources and support within the police force can hinder officers from seeking help. Stigma around mental health may prevent officers from discussing their issues openly. 

Bravado: In a profession rife with tough and, at times, harrowing situations, the pressure to uphold a stoic facade can drive officers to bury their feelings. This suppression is an unhelpful shield against trauma, stress, and job demands and can definitely take a toll on mental well-being. 

Sadly, the pervasive culture of bravado doesn’t just impact individual officers—it seeps through the entire police force. It fosters an atmosphere where acknowledging mental health challenges is viewed as weakness instead of courage. This stigma stifles candid conversations on mental health within law enforcement, depriving many of the vital support and intervention they deserve. 

Getting Support for your Mental Health Whilst Working for the Police

Recognising the vital need for mental health support in law enforcement is key to ensuring peak performance, both personally and professionally. 

For example, we can tackle the impact of bravado on mental health in the police by simply opening up the conversation to the undeniable emotional impact of the job.  

Internal support systems within police departments provide a great starting point. Encouraging officers to openly discuss their mental well-being, free from judgment, is quite monumental. It gives them the opportunity to safely discuss the pressures of the job with people who understand their sentiments. This change starts with leaders showing vulnerability and destigmatising mental health struggles.  

Another excellent initiative is to offer confidential counselling services, which allow officers to discuss their deeper concerns in a supportive environment with a skilled professional who knows how to help them. These services aim to address issues like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, which are commonly faced by policing professionals. 

External organisations also play a vital role in providing mental health support. You don’t ever have to worry about running out of help. Charities and non-profit organisations like Mind and the Blue Light Programme provide specialised services customised for emergency service personnel. They offer helplines, peer support networks, and online resources, all aimed at enhancing mental well-being in the police force. You can also tap into resilience training programmes that teach how to acknowledge emotions without letting them control you, so that you can still perform your duties without compromising your wellbeing. 

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"Creating a supportive workplace culture can significantly impact the mental wellbeing of police staff"

Encouraging open conversations about mental health, providing mental health training, and promoting a stigma-free environment are key steps in ensuring that officers feel comfortable seeking help when needed. 

Self-care strategies are essential for maintaining mental health in the police force. Engage in regular exercise, get ample rest, eat healthily, and practice mindfulness to combat stress and boost resilience. It’s also a great idea to encourage your fellow officers to discover coping strategies that resonate with them and make mental well-being a top priority for their overall health. 

Here are a few other practical tips to try:  

Reflection: Start a daily journal or set aside a moment for quiet reflection after each shift. Think about the stressful situations you faced during the day and pinpoint which aspects you can actually control. 

Choose positivity: Build your own “positivity toolkit” – a mix of uplifting tunes, hilarious videos, and cherished photos to remind you of what matters most. Turn to this toolkit for a quick mood lift whenever you need it during your shift. 

Connect with your purpose: You’ve got an incredible purpose, shining through the job you’ve picked and the service you offer to our community. Keep a little note or a picture in your pocket or workspace that nudges you about your purpose. Take a moment before diving in, gaze at it, and reignite your drive and motivation. 

Improving Team Resilience

Wrapping up, there are numerous avenues to bolster mental well-being in law enforcement. By tapping into internal resources, reaching out for external mental health support, building a positive workplace environment, and embracing self-care tactics, officers can boost their mental health and excel in their roles.  

Enhancing mental well-being in the police force not only supports the officers but also boosts the safety and effectiveness of the law enforcement system. By giving priority to mental health, police agencies can equip their officers better to serve and protect their communities. 

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