Mental health problems among police officers are rife, with a ‘pressure-cooker’ workplace leaving many on the verge of breakdowns, a major new Midlands-based survey shows.
Research into difficulties facing some officers – which can lead to alcohol, relationship and absenteeism issues – has unearthed a ‘machismo culture’ which fosters ‘presenteeism’ – turning up no matter what – and an overwhelming sense of duty.
The scale of the problems are to be revealed in a report being drawn up following research by Lichfield-based not-for-profit finance group Police Mutual in conjunction with Professor Amanda Griffiths of Nottingham University.
The findings will be issued to the police service at the end of June after a 12-month research project involving extensive consultations with key personnel, said Police Mutual chief executive Stephen Mann.
He said: “We have found that there is more of a pressure-cooker environment today. There is recognition that there has been a latent problem for a while.
“It’s not one single thing, people get to see bad things, they might get back from a night where somebody has tried to assault them, and there is no milk in the fridge.
“People are having to do more with less, and managers do not always have the skills to be able to manage stress. People will continue to turn up when they often need to take some time out.
“Some people have eggshell personalities and may no longer have the resilience to cope. What we want to do is support people and say that this is not a stigma.
“People turn up day in, day out even when they shouldn’t because they care about their job. The police service is more prone to people suffering mental health challenges. There are absenteeism, alcohol, relationship issues, and post-traumatic stress disorders in extreme cases.
“If people are investigated, they will often be suspended. If nothing is proven, you are then allowed back into the police service, but that can take 15 months to two years. Some of this could be simply errors of judgment.
“There is a degree of machismo, and a lot of that is down to a real sense of loyalty and duty. There is a sense of presenteeism, and a sense of not wanting to let anybody down.”
Police morale has been plunging in recent years – in 2013 a survey commissioned by the Police Federation found half of officers in the region wanted to leave the job due to stress.
Mr Mann said a combination of factors, including budget cuts, attacks on pay and conditions, increased pension contributions, reduced overtime and the changing nature of crime had left officers ‘feeling wounded.’
“Sometimes, they do not have the skills to realise they are running on empty,” he said. “They will survive but something quite tangential may happen, they might get back to the station, and they can’t park their car. They are all human and they have a tough job to do.
“We have seen austerity, and a changing nature of crime, with cybercrime, which requires a different form of policing . There has been a 20 per cent reduction in funding over the last four to five years. It is quite seismic. We will be launching the report to the police service at the end of June.”
Mr Mann said the £205 million turnover Police Mutual group, which has more than 11,000 members in the West Midlands, provided a range of products and services for the ‘police family,’ including serving and retired officers, and their relations.