One in three Police Scotland officers have gone on duty while 'mentally unwell'

More than one in three Police Scotland officers said they have attended work during the coronavirus pandemic despite suffering with their mental health, according to a study of how the force’s rank and file staff are coping.

Some 34.9 per cent of officers were “mentally unwell” when at work, it found, with 49 per cent reporting high levels of perceived stress. Hundreds of officers, it added, were fulfilling their duties under “burnout” conditions.

The study of more than 2,200 officers found that 16 per cent were experiencing high levels of “burnout,” with 29 per cent enduring “moderate” burnout.

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The researchers behind the study said frontline officers were suffering from “chronic stress,” and warned that the force’s culture meant they were either unable, or not encouraged to take time off to recover from the demands of their job.

David Hamilton, chair of the Scottish Police Federation (SPF), said the challenges of policing during the pandemic, allied to a lack of government support, was “bringing the frontline to its knees.”

But the force said the safety and wellbeing of officers, staff, and their families was a priority, and pointed to support measures such as its employee assistance programme, post trauma assessment, and mental fitness training.

The study, by the academics Sean Campeau, Linda Duxbury and Neil Cruickshank, all from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, drew on data from a survey of officers’ welfare and wellbeing, carried out between October and December last year.

As well as flagging mental health concerns, it highlighted the fact that 53.5 per cent of officers had gone to work when they were physically unwell.

The report's authors warn that frontline officers are enduring chronic stress during the pandemic. Picture: Michael Gillen

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Setting out the study’s findings, published in the inaugural edition of 1919 Magazine, an online title funded by the SPF, its authors explained: “This is worrisome given research showing the pandemic is likely to exacerbate issues associated with chronic stress rather than alleviate them. Officers who are suffering from chronic stress would benefit from time away from work.

“Unfortunately, the data from this study suggests that the culture within Police Scotland and the officers’ own work ethic means this is unlikely to happen as officers who are experiencing higher levels of stress or burnout within Police Scotland are either not encouraged or unable to take time off work to recover from the demands they face on the job.”

Hamilton told 1919: “These latest findings once again spotlight the alarmingly poor mental and physical health of Scotland's police officers. It is disappointing but not surprising that many of these issues can be tracked to organisational culture and a lack of resources.

“This research is a klaxon to Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Government - they need to act now.”

Police Scotland’s deputy chief constable Fiona Taylor said: “Early in the pandemic, we quickly undertook a 24/7 operation to procure and deliver personal protective equipment and training to 16,000 officers and staff working in crucial roles.

"With the support of health and safety authorities, we developed guidance for officers and staff to discharge their duties during the pandemic. Where possible, we also facilitated home working.

“We work closely with all staff associations and unions, including the SPF, to constantly improve how we enable and empower officers and staff to serve the public.”

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