Mental health impact of Covid crisis on police could be felt 'for years'

Darren Harris, Suffolk Police Federation chair

Darren Harris said the pandemic has put a lot of 'stresses and strains' on officers - Credit: Jason Bye

The mental health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on police officers could be felt "for years to come", it has been warned. 

Darren Harris, chairman of Suffolk Police Federation, said the coronavirus crisis has put "a lot of stresses and strains" on officers. 

The rapid introduction and repeated changes to Covid restrictions, as well as issues with policing in PPE during the pandemic, has been challenging for many officers, Mr Harris said. 

"It's difficult to measure, I can only guess where we're going to be heading and I think there have been a lot of stresses and strains placed upon police officers," he said. 

"You've got weekly changes in legislation to get your head around. PPE has been available for police officers but the problem is that you can't always police with full PPE on.

"I think time is going to be the issue here. We may not see the effects of this pandemic on police officers for months and maybe years. 

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"We're seeing police officers, sadly, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the moment from incidences five or ten years ago. It takes time to come out. 

"It may be that actually we're going to be dealing with the mental health effects of the pandemic for years to come."

Mr Harris said the federation is looking to "streamline" the mental health support available to officers to aid welfare within the force. 

Suffolk police said it cannot yet say how Covid rules will be policed at Christmas. Stock picture. P

Suffolk Police Federation is working to improve mental health support - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

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"It's a massive push from us at the moment, we're working with the force on welfare," he said.

"Every opportunity that we can, we're talking about welfare of police officers. How can we make it better? How can we get better provisions in there to try to tackle these issues early on rather than them building up. 

"There is good support at the moment. We're working to better that because you can't go backwards, you've always got to better it.

"So we're looking at how we can get an even better, more streamlined service, with easier access for officers, less bureaucratic. 

"The mental health effects of the pandemic on the police are unknown and it is a worry because I think it may come to the forefront in the future and we need to be ready for that."

A spokesman for Suffolk police said: "We take our duty of care to all our employees very seriously.

"It is important that officers and staff talk to the organisation and the workplace health department about their struggles in order to gain access to the most appropriate support.  

“We have a traumatic incident debrief process, employee assistance programme, and proactive wellbeing initiatives as well as assessment and treatment for staff and officers living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), trauma and complex mental ill health.

“In relation to Covid-19, we have put a number of specific initiatives in place to support officers and staff who are both working from home and still operationally deployed during the pandemic.”

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