Policing the UK over the past 18 months of the Covid pandemic has led to three-quarters of officers experiencing mental health and wellbeing difficulties.
A Demand Capacity and Welfare Survey report by the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) of more than 12,000 officers found that 69% of respondents reported that their mental health had been affected by “work-related difficulties”. More than half of these (58%) cited heavy workloads as a key factor.
The pandemic has put pressure on policing like never before … it should sound alarm bells” – John Apter, chair Police Federation
The survey also revealed that just one in five respondents had admitted to asking for help to manage their mental health and wellbeing. Most of these (71%) had disclosed this information to line managers – showing that proactive support services within the police service were playing an increasing role.
However, a large minority of officers who had asked for help (41%) and who did not share this information with their line manager said this was because of their fear of being differently treated in the workplace, a manifestation of the perceived stigma around declaring mental health and wellbeing issues.
There was evidence that some had had negative experiences after disclosing their issues with 21% agreeing they weren’t treated as well afterwards. Most indices nonetheless showed that there was a small but significant increase in positive aspects of mental health support.
The police now provides support services such as resilience training, mindfulness workshops, and mental health awareness programmes for officers. Awareness of these was described had improved in recent years, with 74% of respondents saying they knew about them.
Of national support initiatives within policing, the Blue Light Project by Mind, Oscar Kilo, and PFEW’s Welfare Support Programme were the most recognisable among officers.
Police and wellbeing
The leading work-related reasons for exacerbating mental health and wellbeing difficulties were high workload (58%) and poor work/life balance (46%).
PFEW national chair John Apter said: “The pandemic has put pressure on policing like never before. But while the negative impact on the mental health of police officers comes as no surprise, it should sound alarm bells.
“Police officers often feel as though their concerns are irrelevant. Policing and government therefore must do much more to make sure they can more easily access the support they deserve.
“On a positive note, there is more mental health and wellbeing support available than ever before – and it’s clear from the evidence more officers are seeking support.
“But we need to remove the stigma around these issues. We have to ensure every officer knows where they can reach out and get support no matter what time of day or night they need it.
“The Police Covenant, which is currently going through parliament, is the perfect opportunity to ensure that help and support is provided to officers. That’s why it is essential that what the Covenant delivers is both tangible and meaningful.”
Apter last week blasted home secretary Priti Patel over police pay, declaring that the Police Federation no longer had confidence in her.