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How we help police officers cope with mental health challenges

PUBLISHED: 10:22 21 October 2018 | UPDATED: 14:19 21 October 2018

Chief Constable Gareth Wilson.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Chief Constable Gareth Wilson. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

In his latest column, Suffolk Constabulary chief constable GARETH WILSON talks about how his force is dealing with the mental health pressures the job of policing can place on his staff.

Gareth Wilson, Chief Constable of Suffolk Police.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNGareth Wilson, Chief Constable of Suffolk Police. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Earlier this month I spent a couple of weeks of annual leave on one of my regular trips walking in the hills of Scotland. It is such a wonderful country with scenery I wish I had spent more of my life appreciating.

It’s one of the few areas I can find to relax, another being riding on our horses around the magnificent Suffolk countryside with my wife.

Walking in the hills of Scotland gives me the time and space to reflect upon both Suffolk Constabulary and my life outside of work.

I’ve had time to reflect more on the fabulous work some of my officers, staff and volunteers were recently given awards for.

I’ve written before with some of the detail, but I also mentioned the great toll some of this work takes upon staff.

After all, those who work for my organisation are just ordinary members of the public who choose public service to keep our communities safe and, as I said in my last column, they deal with the extraordinary almost as if it was routine.

It is inevitable that some of those who get to deal with homicides, sexual abuse, road crashes or many of the other incidents we deal with will have some real strains on their mental health.

It is my job to ensure there is the support where possible to prevent a longer term issue and, for those who have significant mental health issues, support to bring them back to health and work as soon as they can.

After a particularly nasty incident we encourage staff to go through a structured process with those peers involved.

Additionally, we provide a confidential staff hotline available at any time as well as more specialist support where it’s needed.

The most important goal for me is to encourage the right culture within the organisation, where people can speak freely when something is affecting them rather than bottling things up.

I encourage this from the start and new recruits hear a candid view from me about what they are about to see, hear and experience.

I really encourage you all to think about what all staff within the emergency services see, hear and experience when you see them. They do deal with the most extraordinary of situations.

You will have heard the police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore and I speaking frequently about the rapid increase in demand the organisation is facing.

999 calls alone have increased by 2,507 in the past year. One theory I have is that reduced public spending has led to less preventative work being undertaken by some organisations which, in turn, has led to more acute issues that need an immediate or urgent police response.

The only way we can truly deal with the core issues effectively is by better joined up public services - and Suffolk does this better than anywhere else I have worked.

We have seen the foundation of some really good work in Ipswich which I totally commit to continuing. We have also seen some outstanding work between health agencies and the police in the provision of a response car staffed by both police and mental health staff and mental health workers within our control room.

Both are providing huge benefits for our communities. However, there is still much to do and I have seen all too frequently people with very significant mental health issues being detained in police custody blocks whilst mental health teams try to find a bed within a mental health facility.

Custody blocks are not suitable at all for someone waiting for a bed and so much more needs to be done to improve this.

After all, if someone had a bad physical injury such as a significant wound or broken leg, they wouldn’t wait for similar protracted periods waiting for admission into hospital.

If someone is so mentally ill they are detained for their own safety, the transfer to a mental health bed must take place as soon as possible.

Issues around mental health, whether those of my staff or those of the public we serve, are most certainly increasing.

By creating the right culture within the organisation and by working effectively with partners we can ensure those suffering mental health are given the best possible service.

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