Not Waving But Drowning
There is no doubt that there have been some ground breaking changes within Policing in regards to wellbeing and the consideration of the mental health issues that impact those who strive relentlessly to keep the public safe. At last Police leaders, almost unanimously, recognise that some officers and staff have been paying a huge price and their health has suffered for the service they have given. Their work has led them to becoming unwell, some have had support, others have not, some have tragically taken their own lives and the impact of this has been felt keenly by their families and colleagues near and far across the thin blue line.
It is absolutely essential that we understand what is happening, that we look for answers and that we seek ways in which to prevent our officers and staff coming to harm. We are beginning to smash through the stigma surrounding mental health problems, this can only help us to be more successful with early interventions and giving prompt support to those that need it.
The National Police Wellbeing Service has been ‘banging the drum’ about wellbeing, the importance of it and how it makes practical, financial and moral sense to ensure that within Policing we do our utmost to support the wellbeing of our people. The Oscar Kilo brand is synonymous with wellbeing and the message ‘It’s OK to talk’ and ‘it’s OK to not be OK’. But it’s not just about talking, it’s about ‘doing’ and Oscar Kilo have been providing practical support via training, webinars, online resources, and of course, producing the Blue Light Framework which provides the structure forces can work within to achieve a better workplace for employees. The outreach team have been providing Wellbeing Vans to forces up and down the country, as a response to an incident or as part of a wellbeing event to highlight the support that is available. The OK9 Wellbeing Dogs and the passionate Peer Supporters who are their Handlers are bringing wellbeing into the heart of Policing, they are reaching those who are hardest to reach.
One of the most encouraging developments in the wellbeing ‘movement’ is that there are many different agencies, bodies and organisations working together to provide better support and outcomes for officers and staff. Some forces are really proactive and have excellent Wellbeing Teams. The NPWS, the NPCC, the CoP, the Police Federation and charities such as Police Care UK all have a huge role to play. They have shown they can work really well together and with forces around the country and they can be proactive to identify and reduce the occupational psychological risk to the people who deal with death, abuse, horror and violence on a daily basis.
It seems we are finally beginning to get ‘upstream of the problem!’. And yet … there are still, today, colleagues not waving and cheering about this progress, but instead, drowning in the water. There are still colleagues who are struggling every day as a result of the service they have given. There are still colleagues unable to get the help they need. In our enthusiasm and haste to get to the source, to be upstream and ahead of the curve, they become more invisible and it seems are left to sink under the weight of indifference to their plight. We cannot allow them to become inconvenient reminders of a time when the very idea of ‘wellbeing’ was shunned, ridiculed or ignored.
Many of those affected will not respond to traditional treatments, they may find it difficult to engage with the organisation that they feel has failed them.
The UK military recognised that they had this problem and they adapted. They accepted there was a problem and they took ownership of it but they recognised they were not necessarily the best people to resolve it. The suicides of those returning from conflict was a deep concern and traditional interventions were not working. They found that a myriad of different service charities offered a far more varied and tailored response to the individual needs of their Veterans than they could ever offer and crucially, were more engaging and more trusted by Veterans. Military service charities now offer, breakfast clubs, sporting activities, PTSD Assistance Dogs, expeditions, gardening clubs, equine therapy etc, etc. These charities are able to address the complex needs of service leavers and help them to recover or cope using the innate motivation that they have for each activity or lifestyle.
A Police Covenant for all, past, present and future
The military have the Armed Forces Covenant enshrined into law. They use the Armed Forces Covenant Grant Fund arm of this to fund charities that are successfully changing the lives of Veterans. In addition to this, many of the service charities also recognise they do not have the specialist knowledge, experience or set up to provide the specific individual intervention that may be needed. In view of this, the armed forces charities collaborate to ensure there is a ‘wrap around’ service for Veterans. They share resources
and knowledge, they provide grants to other charities to help their members. This means that Veterans can be more confident about getting the support they need and the armed forces community is united in trying to provide the best help it can to its people. It is a
‘joined up’ response and it’s working!
The Police can learn from the military, we can also learn from past mistakes within the military and Policing, in fact, it would be absurd not to do so. Just as the military and the military charities continue to support those Veterans injured in service as a fundamental ‘duty of care’ we have the same responsibility to our casualties.
The introduction of the Police Covenant could be an ideal opportunity to help provide ongoing support to our injured colleagues, Police Charities could (and must) work better together to address the individual needs of officers and staff, they must recognise that by working together they are better able to provide the help needed. While it is yet unknown if funding for the Police Covenant will extend to a grant funding arm it is sorely needed to help alleviate the difficulties of those struggling with PTSD and other mental health problems who do not fit neatly into the current options available and have been left to flounder. We must not abandon our colleagues!
If we get this right we can be confident that we are addressing our responsibilities. We can be proud to be a caring organisation that looks after its people with compassion and does the right thing to support them even after they leave. We will help to make Policing
more attractive to new recruits and retain those that are currently working. There will be a cost, but it is an investment in our future and with support from the NPCC, NPWS, Police Federation and Police Charities we can, as part of the Covenant, ensure that we have much better, varied and individualised ongoing help available to our officers and staff, past and present, who have been injured through their service.