In recent years the Federation and the Force have got better at helping people access mental health support when they need it, according to Cheshire Police Federation equality and wellbeing lead Dan Lever.
Dan has also acknowledged that people are also getting better at talking openly when they are struggling with their mental health thanks to the work that has gone into reducing the stigma around these issues.
“I think we are making progress in breaking down the stigma around talking about mental health but there is still a way to go,” says Dan, “However, what has really been concerning me is that
officers with more severe mental health issues have faced difficulties in terms of getting the tailored and intensive support they need when they are in the depths of a more severe and complex crisis.”
As a result, around a year ago now, Dan spoke to the Force human resources manager, Elayne Gibson, and suggested a new partnership with AnonyMind, a Manchester based team of psychologists who he believed could offer those officers life-changing – and in some cases life-saving – support
Thankfully, Elayne – and the Force – were both supportive and this ground-breaking initiative has led to some amazing results already.
“I had really noticed in the three or so years that I have been in this full-time Federation role that a number of officers were coming to speak to me with really severe mental health problems, but there was nothing really in place to give them the support they clearly needed. I am not just talking about support to get them back to work as a police officer but also support to enable them to function as people too,” Dan explained.
“Neither mental health charities nor occupational health could help. There is no one size fits all answer to mental health but for the vast majority of people suffering with their mental health and wellbeing there is something that is relatively easy to access. But those officers with really complex mental health issues needed a different level of treatment.
“The NHS, which would grade this as Stage 4 treatment, can offer this intensive support, but the waiting list for this is around two years.
“I made some tentative enquiries with AnonyMind and, convinced they could help fill this gap in the support we could provide, approached Elayne who, in turn, gained the backing of the Deputy Chief Constable so that the Force now privately funds this intensive treatment when it is required.”
Dan added: “I cannot stress enough how effective this partnership has been. I think we are the first, but if not one of the first, forces to offer this kind of support to officers in crisis.
“I know of several officers who have undergone treatment with AnonyMind, some are still seeing their psychologists. The difference this support has made has been unbelievable.”
Dan cites as an example one officer who had been off work sick for months, deeply impacted by an on duty incident. He was having really major difficulties with his mental health. He was incapable of even considering a way forward, be that going down the route of ill-health retirement or through another career pathway.
“After a number of sessions with AnonyMind, the transformation in him has been amazing so much so that it’s almost difficult to put into words how much better he is. You cannot really compare the person he was when he first came to see me and the way he is now. For a start, he is talking about coming back to work. That was not something he could even start to think about before. For this officer, and I am sure there will be others, this treatment has given him a second chance, at work and in his home life,” Dan explained.
“But it’s not just about coming back to work is it? Police officers are human beings too. While they may be struggling at work due to mental health issues, they don’t just leave those problems at the door when they return home. Their families will be affected when they are unwell and it will send ripples through to partners, husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, extended families, friends and colleagues. When people are breaking or broken, it doesn’t affect them in isolation.
“The Force has a duty of care to officers and staff and can only provide an effective service to our communities if it invests in the health and wellbeing of its officers and staff.
“I am really pleased the Force has taken this progressive step and put in place funding for this initiative, particularly so because it is proving to be something of a game-changer.”
Dan has also issued a reminder to officers that they should not be afraid to get in touch with him or a Federation rep if they feel they are struggling with stress or mental health. He adds that there is an appreciation within the Federation branch that the cost of living crisis, compounded by the below-inflation pay rises, is adding to the pressures officers are facing.
“But, no matter how bad things seem, there is always help at hand and the first step towards improving your wellbeing – be that emotional, mental, physical or financial – is to speak to someone, share your concerns, see what support is available,” said Dan.
“As a Federation, we know officers can be reluctant to speak to a line manager or supervisor, fearing talking about their mental health could be career-limiting. That is not the case. But if you are worried about that, just remember the Federation can provide confidential support.
“And to the managers out there, I would just say please take the time to talk to your team, get to know them, try to read their mood, offer support when you can see they are not themselves or not reacting as they would usually. As with so many things, prevention is better than cure. Speaking to someone who may appear to be struggling can make such a difference and acting early can mean the person does not get sucked into a downward spiral.”
With a return to offices now after the pandemic, Dan is also encouraging managers to be sensitive to individuals’ needs, pointing out that forcing someone back into the office full-time could have a negative impact upon them and calling for some training around managing an agile workforce.
“There is a real danger in being so focussed on driving performance that we forget to look after our people. Only by looking after our people will we be able to achieve our performance targets and that will come through having effective leaders, not performance-focussed managers,” Dan said.