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Cheshire Fed chair calls for more support for vicarious trauma

The Cheshire Federation Chair, Jamie Thompson, has said that policing needs to become more proactive around dealing with officer trauma.

The Chair of the Cheshire Police Federation, Jamie Thompson, has told Police Oracle that he believes the police are getting better at reactively managing poor mental health, but that they should be preventing officers from getting to that stage in the first place.

“Whilst there’s an understanding that as police officers we do run towards things that other people run away from and that that is part of the role- there’s got to be some acknowledgement that that’s going to take its toll,” he said.

“We’re getting much better at fixing people when they’re broken but we’re still not great at being preventative in cases where we can foresee that there’s going to be an issue with the continual exposure to certain types of incidents for example.”

Mr Thompson has suggested that regular check-ins should be used and that supervisors are best placed to pick up on changes in behaviour.

“Once somebody puts their hand up and says, ‘I'm not well mentally’, it's really, really difficult to bring them back from that – it’s gone a long way then,” he explained.

“We could offer something to officers just to go and have a chat. Supervisors should know these people - if there's any change in their behaviours don't just ignore it, explore it and understand why the behaviours are changing.

“Sometimes we're guilty of not allowing supervisors the space and time themselves to really explore things with their staff - some of our sergeants are managing 15 - 20 people and are busy day-in day-out.”

Currently, the Cheshire Fed has an initiative in place where they receive the sickness list for every federated member each week. A Fed rep will then make contact with each member who has taken sick leave, regardless of what they are off sick with, to have a chat about whether anything is going on and whether further support is needed.

The Fed’s Wellbeing and Equality led, Dan Lever, explained: “If we can help people early on, the chances of that condition becoming worse or them becoming sick long term reduces massively.

“Particularly in policing, people will say they’re off with one thing, when really they’re off with something else. It gives them the opportunity to speak independently away from their supervisor or work colleagues.

“Our sickness levels in Cheshire have never been as low as they are now. I’m not putting it all down to that but I believe it has made a difference.”

The force is also funding treatment via an external company, Leon House, for officers with complex PTSD. A number of people so far have had this treatment funded.

Mr Lever said: “I’ve got one officer who has been off for a long time quite severe mental health issues who is now actively talking about going back to work and what roles he can do – a year ago, it couldn't even speak about the police.”

Mr Thompson, however, has said he feels there is a certain reluctance among officers to highlight problems to their employer.

“We all have different things going on in our lives. And the stressors of a job could just be the tip of the iceberg. And it could be other things going on we you know, we shouldn't judge we should support,” he said.

“Yes, okay, there may be particular roles that people aren't suited to [in light of certain mental health difficulties]- but it's the police, there's 100 other things those individuals can do.

“Policing isn't about being mentally strong all the time, it isn't about parking everything and putting it in little boxes and worrying about it later, because that's where we've been - and we need to move away from that now.”

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