Rising pressure on our police will cause rise in sick days, officers warn

All your travel, crime and breaking news for Suffolk and Essex Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

All your travel, crime and breaking news for Suffolk and Essex Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Mounting pressure on police will cause officer sickness levels to get worse, it has been warned - as figures revealed 1,218 days lost by the force to mental health-related illness in a year.

Ali Livingstone has left the police force after 18 years on the beat. Ali suffered a mental breakdow

Ali Livingstone has left the police force after 18 years on the beat. Ali suffered a mental breakdown over a year ago and now would like to encourage people to talk about their mental health Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

A Freedom of Information request showed that Suffolk Constabulary lost 29,244 hours to mental health-related sickness such as depression, exhaustion, anxiety and stress in 2018.

Suffolk Police Federation, which represents officers across the county, said the force was always likely to have a higher level of sickness compared to other professions due to the high-pressure nature of the job.

Mark Emsden, secretary of the branch, said: "It's important for the public to understand and remember that we ask police officers to deal with the most traumatic and stressful things possible."

Only this week Ali Livingstone, once dubbed "supercop" for arresting more than 500 suspects in a year, described how a mental breakdown "hit him like a bus" and led to him quitting policing after nearly 20 years on the beat.

But asked about the sickness statistics, Mr Emsden added: "I think these figures will only get worse.

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"The population is going up and crime is going up. That is going to put more and more pressure on officers.

"We're only human at the end of the day and there's only so much we can take."

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Mr Emsden was keen to stress the amount of sick leave was not necessarily surprising, given the force has 1,200 officers.

Suffolk police added that the overall absence rate for officers from April 2018 to March 2019 was 3.97% - 1.02% lower than the previous year.

The 1,218 days lost due to mental health-related issues affected 97 officers.

Mr Emsden said: "There's a high level of sickness around stress - that's because police officers are no different to members of the public.

"People react differently to different things. Police officers are no different - it's just that we ask them to do that on a more regular basis.

"Some people go their whole lives without seeing a dead body. Most cops wil see at least half a dozen a year. Cops are often the first at murder scenes and presented with horrific things.

"When you deal with stressful circumstances, you need time to let off a little bit of steam. I know the force are doing a lot of work to try and help with that."

Lauren Soames, Suffolk Constabulary's workplace health, safety and wellbeing manager, said: "As with any workplace, officers may be absent from regular duty for a range of reasons, including injuries sustained at work or due to physical or mental health issues.

"We will always offer appropriate support to officers during their absence, with the aim of making an appropriate and timely return to duty.

"In circumstances where staff are unable to return to frontline duties we do everything we can to assist them through return to work programmes. There is also an extensive programme to promote a culture of health and wellbeing to officers and staff."

"It is important that officers and staff talk to the organisation about difficulties with mental health they may be experiencing in order to gain access to the most appropriate support."

She added that there were schemes such as a traumatic incident debrief process and an Employee Assistance Programme to help officers.

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