Police service joins up to help prevent officer suicide

The publication of a consensus statement setting out the police service’s future commitment to suicide prevention has been welcomed by Dyfed Powys Police Federation.

The statement was developed the National Police Wellbeing Service, Oscar Kilo, which worked with the UK Health Security Agency to learn from the ambulance service’s approach to suicide prevention and provide guidance for policing.

It has the backing of the Police Federation, National Police Chiefs’ Council, College of Policing, Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, Home Office, UNISON and Police Superintendents’ Association, and acknowledges progress has been made to reduce mental health stigma but recognises organisations must better work together on the important issue.

Dyfed Powys Police Federation wellbeing lead Dai Gaskins said the document was an important step in the right direction.

“The mental health and wellbeing of our members is, and always has been, taken extremely seriously and thankfully we are seeing the start of a cultural change within the police service whereby people are starting to feel more comfortable about discussing their mental and emotional wellbeing,” he said.

“Suicide is recognised as a major issue in policing and we always remind colleagues they should never been afraid to ask for help when they need it or to speak up if they are concerned about a colleague.

“Attitudes towards mental health issues have improved tremendously but I think some of our members still fear there is a stigma attached and that is one of the areas that needs improvement.

“So there is still a long way to go and a lot of work to do but this consensus statement is a step in the right direction hopefully we will see many more joint initiatives and collaborative efforts in the future.”

The statement was developed the National Police Wellbeing Service, Oscar Kilo

Dai said it was important members were made to feel comfortable and confident when approaching the Federation for help and support.

He explained: “We have a lot of experience of offering support to officers. We know what support is available from various organisations who specialise in this area so if we can’t help ourselves we almost certainly know people who can. Members should not be afraid to contact us over any concerns they have. We want to raise that awareness and urge people to take that first step towards tackling any problem they may have.”

The College of Policing lists a number of risk factors for suicide, covering individual, situational and socio-cultural circumstances. Among these are a previous suicide attempt, mental disorder, acute emotional distress, stressful life events, such as divorce, barriers to accessing health care, particularly in relation to mental health, and exposure to suicidal behaviours.

“We are in touch with people exposed to these risk factors on a weekly, if not daily, basis,” says Dai, “This demonstrates the scale of the issues officers are facing. We very much welcome the fact that they are coming to us for help but I fear this is just the tip of the iceberg and that there are many others who are trying to cope on their own.”

A number of key steps are already being taken after the publication of the consensus statement.

The officer and staff safety review proposal to improve the way data is recorded on police officer and staff death, serious injury and suicide has also been agreed and will now be progressed.

In addition, a toolkit funded and commissioned by the National Police Wellbeing Service working closely with the Samaritans will be made available in the spring to all forces and will also be accessible via the Oscar Kilo website.

Police Federation national vice-chair Ché Donald said: “While the national consensus statement represents a welcome first step in helping to tackle this issue, it’s only the beginning of a more collective approach which we hope will pay dividends in the longer run.

“Our combined aim is to break down the many existing barriers to help-seeking. Only by working together within the service can we help to transform attitudes, and increase the confidence of those who might otherwise shun the existing support services available for depression and mental illness.

“This means confining some attitudes and language to the past, ensuring colleagues are protected from burn-out because of work demands, and providing effective health screening and better support for those in high stress roles.

“It’s crucial the service offers the very best care to colleagues and their family members, and that lessons are learnt from every single tragedy, so others don’t similarly suffer in the future.”