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Chiefs back family support improvements for officer suicides

Support for those affected by officer suicide is being stepped up, Fed leaders have revealed.

Four chiefs have backed an initiative to give support to friends and family in the aftermath of an officer suicide.

The Real Time Suicide Surveillance (RTSS) scheme has been developed in a partnership of the Police Liaison Unit at Welsh Government, the four Welsh police services, Public Health Wales, and the NHS Wales Health Collaborative.

The initiative, backed by £50m from the Welsh government, brings services in earlier to support family and friends.

Nicky Ryan, the Welsh lead for the Police Federation said: “Research suggests that for every death by suicide up to 135 other people can be exposed, affected or bereaved, and may require support. If that person is a police officer that loss will be acutely felt by their immediate colleagues and can impact on mental wellbeing across the Force.

“I would also like to recognise the fact that the four Welsh Chief Constables have signed an agreement to share information with Public Health Wales. This commitment has moved the work forward within a very short time.”

Details of the scheme were shared at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week as part of work to tackle the poor mental health of officers and staff.

According to police charities, an officer takes their own life every two weeks.

Official figures from the ONS show 169 officers in England and Wales have committed suicide between 2011 and 2019.

But due to delays caused by coroners’ courts and poor data, the true figure is unknown. Welfare leads say the number is higher – and rising.

But the key message for the week from the Fed was that more work needs to be done to ensure officers aren’t pushed to breaking point.

Fed Wellbeing Secretary Belinda Goodwin said: “Most members know where to go for help once they reach breaking point, but that is the issue. Looking at the current welfare landscape for officers suffering with their mental health, there are many resources available - but we must get better when it comes to proactive support and prevention.

“By doing something before an officer suffers a breakdown or reaches a critical stage we can protect officers and ensure they have tools at hand to enable them to proactively make changes before the damage is irreversible,” she said.

Forces are beginning to wake up to the seriousness of the number of cases with guidance now available from the College of Policing on suicide prevention.

And officers are being asked by the mental health charity Mind to give their assessment of the support available to them in a survey.

The theme for the week is loneliness and isolation. The message from police welfare organisations is that officers and staff should be encouraged to talk about issues earlier.

Officer wellbeing experts Oscar Kilo said: “We want all people who work in policing to understand how to build personal resilience, feel confident they can speak up when things aren’t going well, and to get the best personalised support possible when they need it.”

Professor Sarah Hodgkinson, a policing degree lecturer, highlighted the frequency of mental health issues.

She shared on social media: “It will affect all of us at some stage in our lives. Moreso in light of current economic issues affecting so many. If you can, reach out and talk. Don't let loneliness of thought silence you.”

Forces had the same message for staff and officers.

North Wales Police said: “Mental health has a huge impact on our overall wellbeing and it’s never been so important to look after ourselves, and each other.”

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