On World Mental Health Day National Vice-Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) Ché Donald explains why supporting Mental Health is so important to him – both professionally and personally.
Mental health plays a huge part of the work I do here at the Federation on behalf of our members. But today it is a much more personal aspect of this issue that fills my thoughts.
You see, I have first-hand experience of how devastating a mental illness can be as my own brother suffers from schizophrenia. An illness which, if not caused, is exacerbated by his addiction to illegal drugs.
When he was at his most unwell he was experiencing paranoid delusions and even attempted to attack our own mother and sister with a knife, causing them to flee from the house in fear and panic.
The police were called that day, being tasked to not only deal with my brother in his crisis, but then to support and comfort my mother and sister, in what must have been one of the most distressing incidents of their lives.
The effect of this incident rippled through my life, ultimately affecting my own mental health for a time.
Those officers, who were not doctors or mental health practitioners, did what they needed to protect my family - and they did it with professionalism and compassion.
Although this incident took place in Cape Town, South Africa a few years ago, it is very comparable to so many of the incidents occurring every single day across England and Wales.
Increasingly police officers are having to deal with more and more calls where the mental health of the people involved is a key factor.
We are frequently the ones to provide help and support when other agencies are unable - or unwilling - to assist. We are the service who can’t say no when the call comes in.
Police officers can detain people for their own protection under the Mental Health Act; we assist our partner agencies with mental health assessments and we are often called to those who are in such extremes that ending their own life seems like the only option.
And the officers who attend those calls, and the heart-breaking incidents where they arrive too late to make a difference, will carry those experiences with them.
They may shrug it off as they move on to the next emergency – but it is there, ingrained in their own psyche. And we know from academic research that repeated exposure to trauma damages a person’s mental health – and just think how many traumatic incidents are dealt with by police officers ‘just doing their jobs’.
As part of my role as the PFEW’s lead for Police Officer Mental Health, I am more than aware of the impact that being a police officer has on those who undertake the role. And of just how devastating it can be when officers reach breaking point because of what they have experienced.
We are currently undertaking a piece of research focusing on officers who take their own lives, and what more can be done to help prevent these tragedies.
I have made it my mission to ensure the vitally important issue of officer mental health is recognised and addressed. And that any perceived stigma which may have existed in the past is eradicated.
We at the Federation have undertaken a large-scale piece of work with our Demand, Capacity and Welfare research which has given us evidence of the situation faced by our members.
Mental health and mental ill health permeates every aspect of our lives - at work, in our social circles and for many – like me – at home too.
A lot has happened to raise awareness of this issue, and to help those living with it, but there is a long way to go to ensure people like my brother get the help they need, and that the officers who so often pick up the pieces are protected too – not just today but every day of the year.