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Oscar Kilo launch ‘Suicide postvention toolkit’ for force leaders

The toolkit has been developed with national charity Samaritans. The kit is designed to help senior leadership in forces to support staff after a colleague has been lost to suicide.

Earlier this year, a suicide prevention consensus statement was agreed by a range of policing organisations including NPCC, the College, the APCC, Home Office and Unison.

It set out a joint commitment to develop strategies to reduce the number of deaths by suicide across the police service.

The postvention toolkit marks one of the first steps completed to date and online training sessions will also be running with charity, Samaritans, for senior managers and those who are looking to implement the advice given in the toolkit.

Oscar Kilo Service Director and former chief constable Andy Rhodes told Police Oracle : “When we first engaged with Samaritans, they said the first thing they did with the ambulance service was postvention. Intuitively I thought we would be looking at prevention first, or awareness.

“The point they made to us was that with everything that is being done with Oscar Kilo, individual forces and the College, there’s a lot there for prevention.

“We’ve got to get the organisational response as good as it can be after a tragic event – because what we can see is that one suicide can generate others.”

A College of Policing document outlining the current landscape of suicide prevention in policing has said that ONS figures show that 163 officers’ deaths between 2011 and 2019 were classified as suicide or of undetermined intent (although inquest delays mean the figure may be subject to slight changes).

The toolkit underlines that those who have been bereaved or affected by suicide are almost three times more at risk of suicidal ideation.

The topic is on the agenda, and Andy Rhodes said over 150-160 people attended today’s launch webinar.  

He explained: “I think what’s different now is that we’ve made a lot of progress around reducing mental health stigma. We deal with so many cases of suicide operationally, sometimes we’ve overlooked ourselves and I think that’s been a hidden problem that we haven’t talked about.”

Police Oracle asked about some of the increasing pressures officers face on a daily basis and whether those are starting to have a visible impact.

“We’ve got evidence from our own research and surveys and also from other forces and universities we work with internationally that organisational support, organisational justice is very important to people who work in public services,” he said.

“Obviously officers will, on occasion, become ill with things like trauma exposure – they may get injured or if they’re assaulted for example. However, those things they quite often take in their stride because it’s what they joined the job to do and they came with their eyes wide open.

“Because they care about doing a decent job, if the technology isn’t right, if change isn’t managed properly, if they haven’t got good line management support, good kit, good training or if they don’t feel valued either by their organisation or the public, it will have a detrimental impact on their mental health – we can prove that […] and it’s something we need to make more visible.”

The Police Covenant has funded a Chief Medical Officer- a role currently filled on an interim basis while recruitment is underway. Resources to develop a National Action Plan for suicide are being moved to the Chief Medical Officer.

Andy Rhodes added that one area that needs attention is the collection of data – particularly given that a lot of research in this area comes from the US where there are major differences from the UK, including officers’ access to service weapons.

Currently, information such as when an officer may have presented at A&E with an attempt is private and their force would be unaware unless they themselves disclosed it. He said there is currently work being done, looking at how to engage with health services and possibly getting anonymized data about presentations at A&E.

“The Police Federation, Supers Association, Unison – they have been banging this drum for a long time,” Andy Rhodes said.

“We’re a long way from getting this sorted, but what we’re doing today is a major step forward.”

The toolkit is available to people to access directly from the Oscar Kilo website – it can also be adapted to support those who lose someone outside of work to suicide.

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