Police chiefs are to hold a meeting with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to discuss stress after official figures revealed that enough officers to run a small police force were off sick each day last year because of the problem.
Around 250,000 days were lost across the UK police forces in 2004-05 due to stress-related illness, costing around 40m a year, according to Home Office figures.
On a typical day, an average of 1,086 officers – the size of the forces in Wiltshire or Warwickshire – were absent from work with stress-related illnesses.
Allyn Thomas, assistant chief constable (personnel and training) of the Kent Police and health and safety co-ordinator at the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said there was not enough understanding about stress.
“It is a much misunderstood issue,” he said. “While people may report that they are ill with stress, stress is not in itself an illness, but rather something that can make other illnesses worse.”
Thomas said Acpo would be meeting with the HSE towards the end of February to discuss how to “promote a better understanding of stress, better collection of data about it and to improve the way that the service deals with it”.
Andrew Marston, force personnel director at the Greater Manchester Police Service, said the rise in stress could be attributed to changing attitudes.
“There used to be a stigma attached to stress, but now it’s almost a badge of honour,” he said.
“Doctors are more willing to diagnose people [with stress] and people are also self-diagnosing,” he added.