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Officer sick days for mental health issues soar by 70 per cent

‘Real rise in officers experiencing problems, driven by cuts to numbers since 2010’

Draconian cuts to officer numbers in the last decade have “driven” a dramatic two-thirds rise in the number of sick days taken by police officers because of mental health issues, a deputy chief claims.

Days missed by officers due to psychological issues rose 69.4 per cent between 2013-14 and 2018-19, according to new Freedom of Information figures.

The news comes in the wake of Police Oracle revealing last month more than 10,500 police officers across the UK took time off work for stress, depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder in the past year.  

But among the 33 forces which responded to the 5 News latest investigation, the total number of officers fell by 4.7 per cent, meaning the proportion of sick leave days for mental health issues rose by 77.7 per cent.

The proportion of sick days for all other medical reasons rose by around four per cent over the same period, the investigation found.

Suffolk Constabulary Deputy Chief Constable Rachel Kearton said the increase in sick leave taken for psychological issues partly reflects a greater willingness among officers to talk about mental health.

But she also said there is a real rise in officers experiencing problems, driven by cuts to officer numbers since 2010.

"There isn't that capacity that there may have been in the past to give people the opportunity to take a decompression period or time-out to recover from stressful incidents," she said.

"That impact of constantly going from one traumatic incident to another, whereas previously officers did have that opportunity to take a bit of time out because there were other officers there that could do that job for them.

"I don't have that opportunity to take somebody away from the front-line, and give them a break, give them some respite from whatever they've experienced.

"They have to deal with a horrendous road traffic accident and the very next day, or the very same day, they have to deal with another one because there isn't that opportunity to give them a break."

Some 32 of the UK's 43 police forces, as well as British Transport Police, responded to the request for information.

The figures show there were 390,608 sick leave days for mental health issues last year, compared to 230,631 five years earlier.

This equates to 19 out of every 1,000 working days taken as leave for psychological reasons in 2018-19, compared to 11 days per 1,000 in 2013-14.

For all other categories of sickness, 33 days per 1,000 were taken as leave in 2018-19, compared to 32 per 1,000 in 2013/14.

Sussex PC Ian Buckman developed PTSD after arriving first to a murder scene nearly a decade ago.

He told 5 News: "I didn't tell anyone I was having the flashbacks, not even anyone at home... I was not really there in my head, it affected my work and my mood.

"It definitely took a toll on family life, I became quite moody... quite snappy, tired, irritable and taking it out on the wrong people... my wife, my daughter, my parents.

"At Christmas 2018 I literally came to breaking point before I did anything about it, between that Christmas and new year time the flashbacks had just become so bad, I was having no sleep, eventually I did speak to a colleague."

The officer of 13 years took two months off work, underwent counselling and is now back to full duties after a slow return.

"It has become easier, a lot of work has been done... the work that's been done around Backup Buddy UK has assisted in breaking down those barriers," he said.

But PC Buckman added: "There's more demand for officers to be single crewed, which puts an additional pressure on people.

"Assaults on police seem to be ever increasing, I've been assaulted myself twice in the last four months."

A Home Office spokesman said: "Our police officers do an incredibly difficult job and we take their physical and mental health very seriously.

"That is why we have given £7.5 million to the recently-launched National Police Wellbeing Service which will improve the support provided to police officers and staff.”

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