Stressed-out police ‘turning to drink and drugs to cope’
Survey reveals health toll on cash-strapped force’s staff
POLICE are using alcohol and prescription drugs as a ‘coping mechanism’ amid huge levels of stress and depression.
A ‘frightening’ report has revealed the scale of mental health problems among the 17,000 officers in Scotland’s single force.
It also discloses widespread concerns about workload and lack of resources within cash-strapped Police Scotland.
The situation has become so bad one in ten officers admits drinking alcohol or taking prescription drugs as a ‘coping mechanism’, with 14 per cent saying they drink more than a moderate amount most or all of the time.
Other findings from the mental and physical health survey of 3,000 officers from around the country include:
Almost half are hit by exhaustion, while one in five suffer from insomnia;
Up to one in three officers reported high levels of stress, depressed mood or burnout;
More than a third told of going to work while mentally unwell in the previous six months;
Officers work an average of 47.9 hours a work – a fifth more than normal hours;
A total of 57 per cent reported stress related to a lack of resources, while 56 per cent were stressed through being unable to provide the service required by the community;
Only 3 per cent feel that Police Scotland cares about their wellbeing and 64 per cent say it shows little concern for them.
The findings are from research commissioned by the Scottish Police Federation (SPF), which represents rank-and-file officers. It was carried out by worklife balance expert Professor Linda Duxbury of Carleton University in Ottawa.
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: ‘This new research presents a devastating breakdown of the health of Scotland’s police officers. Far too many are exhausted, depressed and being pushed towards alcohol and drugs in order to cope. Policing is a rewarding but tough job. However, the extent to which the job is making people unwell is shocking.
‘The conditions they are working in are fundamentally unsafe. The culture is all wrong if people feel they have to be out on the beat when they know they aren’t fit to be there.’
He added: ‘The national force and Justice Secretary must end their complacency and stop expecting police officers to operate in these conditions.’
Details of the research were obtained by Mr Rennie in response to questions about the scale of mental health issues among the police workforce.
General secretary of the SPF Calum Steele described the findings as ‘staggering’.
He said: ‘All of it is frightening – from the fact officers work 20 per cent extra, on average, each week to the fact one in ten are relying on drinking alcohol to excess as a coping mechanism.
‘The starkest figure of all is that only 3 per cent of officers believe the police service genuinely cares about them.
‘Everything in this is worrying: excessive workload, excessive hours, officers who can’t deliver services the public deserves, interference in their private life and officers who come to work physically or mentally unwell: there is nothing in this that can be spun in any positive way. Either something has to be done to take that workload away, which means taking away services, or there needs to be more officers to ensure that demand can be met.’
Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor said: ‘The wellbeing of our officers and staff is a priority and we have a range of support mechanisms in place.
‘An engagement and wellbeing survey will be carried early next year. Response rates in the previous two surveys were lower than we had hoped for and we will be taking time to encourage as many people as possible to take part in the next one.
‘In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with all our staff associations.’
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: ‘We support initiatives being undertaken by Police Scotland to create a safe, positive and healthy working environment.’
‘Job is making people unwell’
Overstretched: Police Scotland officers told of exhaustion, depression and burnout