Putting wellbeing to the fore
Six months into his role as Cheshire Police Federation’s equality and wellbeing lead, Dan Lever believes he is already helping make a difference to officer wellbeing.
One major breakthrough has been gaining access to the Force sickness figures, without which it was difficult to get to grips with the extent of any issues, while another has been starting to put in place initiatives aimed at preventing officers going off sick in the first place.
“Being able to look at the sickness figures and work out what is behind them has been one of the biggest developments so far,” says Dan, who was elected to his new role in June this year and is one of only a few full-time Fed officials with a wellbeing remit in the country.
“I have been able to consider if there are any trends and then look at possible solutions. The shocking thing has been to find that we have 70 to 80 officers off sick at any one time. But now, with access to the HR list of our members who are on sick leave, I have been able to allocate a representative to each one. The rep then contacts the member to see what support we can offer.
“In many cases, they have found officers have been off for some time without any help or support and we have been able to help them get treatment including counselling and physiotherapy that has enabled them to return to work.”
But while seeing the figures has helped Dan put support in place, he was also surprised to find that more officers than he imagined were off due to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and that many were also suffering mental ill-health due to their workloads.
Having suffered a period of depression and anxiety when his marriage broke down and then being subject to a conduct investigation, Dan is all too aware of the need for officers to open up about their feelings and take advantage of the support available.
“There is still some stigma around talking about your mental health but I want us to get to a point where officers are not afraid to speak up and seek help before they get to crisis point and fall off the edge of that cliff,” he says.
Before taking on the full-time Federation position, Dan was a sergeant for 15 years, the majority of which he spent on the front-line, and prided himself on looking after his team, getting to know what made them tick and supporting them according to their needs.
When, around seven years ago, he was depressed himself, he underwent counselling and, throughout the conduct proceedings, was supported by his Cheshire Police Federation representative who helped him turn things around.
“It really changed my perspective on things. I just got more and more involved in the Federation and wanted to give back something for the support I had received,” he explained.
It was, however, a physical injury rather than mental ill-health that led to putting himself forward for the full-time Federation post, with a hand injury making it difficult for him to fulfil a front-line policing role.
He has, as the saying goes, not looked back. The equality and wellbeing focus of his position means that he is involved in all areas of Federation work and he says there is nothing more satisfying than getting feedback from members. In one case, he even received a letter of thanks from a member’s Mum who simply thanked him for being there for her daughter.
“It’s a really nice feeling, knowing you have made a difference,” he explains.
That said, Dan feels there’s still plenty to do. The Federation has sourced a welfare vehicle that will be going out across the Force area, spreading the wellbeing message, showing members what support is available, promoting the benefits of preventative measures and also offering refreshments during major events and incidents.
Concerned about the number of officers afraid to seek help when they get into financial difficulties, he also wants to develop some financial wellbeing initiatives and is also in the early stages of planning a wellbeing conference next year with a number of speakers all lined up to take part.
But one of Dan’s key objectives over the coming year is to ensure that wellbeing is not just a label and that there is real substance behind any policies although he acknowledges that Cheshire Chief Constable Darren Martland has put an emphasis on wellbeing, supporting the Federation in its creation of the full-time equality and wellbeing lead post and working closely with him.
“I am mindful that wellbeing can be seen as something of a tick box exercise. It has to be more than that. It has to be considered on a daily basis and part and parcel of everything we do as a Force, as a Federation and as officers. There can be nothing more important than officer wellbeing; if we don’t look after our own, how can we expect to look after our communities?” he asks.