Stressed-out po­lice ‘turn­ing to drink and drugs to cope’

Sur­vey re­veals health toll on cash-strapped force’s staff

Scottish Daily Mail - - The Brexmas Election - By Michael Black­ley Scottish Political Edi­tor

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

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