Blog: Mental health in the police

Published: 13 Aug 2018

Author: Adele Owen
Blog: Mental health in the police

My family and I will never forget this year, as I was greatly honoured to be mentioned in the New Year’s Honours List, attending Buckingham Palace in June to be invested by HRH The Prince of Wales with the Queen’s Police Medal.

The award was recognition for my police operational work and also for the Mental Health Peer Support that I have instigated in our workplace. It’s great to know that the peer support has been recognised at such an important level, and that there is growing awareness of how a police officer’s working environment can impact their mental health.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that mental health issues are particularly prevalent in the police. The Police Dependants’ Trust recently highlighted that the risk of assault or threat in policing is the highest in all occupational groups and five times higher than the average. Wider research tells us policing has some of the highest levels of occupational stress.

Below: Adele receives the Queen's Police Medal

Adele Owen Queen's Police Medal

This is a huge issue and it’s getting bigger. Across the UK, 9,672 police officers took sick leave linked to anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression in the last year. This was 405 more people than in the previous 12 months.

Policing is one of the toughest jobs around. Organisational stress, critical incident trauma, shift work, relationship problems and alcohol abuse are five prominent risk factors commonly associated with policing. Sadly, policing is not immune to the suicide of members of its staff.

In 2016 I received another great honour when I was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to travel to the USA and Norway to learn from police colleagues about the peer support they deliver. It was clear from my research that peer support saves lives and is financially and reputationally beneficial to police organisations.

Something that stood out to me in the USA was the effort the authorities make to support the families of police officers, so officers can attend work without worrying about family matters that can be resolved with a little extra support. They also understand the role that loved ones can play in keeping a police officer resilient from day to day: families often read the signs that an officer is struggling before it is known in the workplace.

Below: Adele on her travels, with a member of the New Hampshire Police

Adele New Hampshire Police

Since returning to the UK I have presented my findings at conferences and shared them with other police organisations, inspiring them to start their own peer support networks.

My findings have also fed into the development of the new National Blue Light Wellbeing Framework. The Framework draws on a wealth of knowledge to provide organisations with a tool for assessing how well they are meeting the mental health needs of their staff, setting a new standard in the emergency services. Oscar Kilo, an online forum initially funded by Public Health England, now hosts the National Blue Light Wellbeing Framework. It aims to be a home for evidence-based practice, enabling police forces and other emergency services to provide informed wellbeing support, whilst encouraging innovation and collaboration.

If you look around your workplace, you might recognise colleagues you can confide in when something is troubling you. Think about how much more widely they could offer support if a more formal peer support network was established. This could be just what a colleague may need so they can seek help. It may even save a life.

Apply for a Fellowship

Find out more about the new ‘Emergency services: crisis prevention, response and recovery’ award category

This article was first published in our 2018 newsletter. Read it here