Stress and exhaustion experienced by Scots police officers highlighted in new research

The stress, exhaustion and depressed mood experienced by police officers in Scotland has been highlighted in new research compiled by a Canadian academic.

Just over two-thirds of officers (67 per cent) said they experienced stress on a daily basis due to having to deal with multiple competing demands simultaneously.
Just over two-thirds of officers (67 per cent) said they experienced stress on a daily basis due to having to deal with multiple competing demands simultaneously.

The research by Professor Linda Duxbury from Carleton University in Ottawa was sponsored by the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) and surveyed officers in six divisions across Scotland in May, June and September this year.

It found almost four in five officers (79 per cent) from just under 3,000 responses reported a lack of officers or staff to do work caused daily stress or stress several times each week, while 56 per cent of officers at all ranks said they either rarely or never received an uninterrupted break at work.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

That figure rose to 80 per cent for officers who are at or above the rank of inspector.

Meanwhile, just over two-thirds of officers (67 per cent) said they experienced stress on a daily basis due to having to deal with multiple competing demands simultaneously, while 64 per cent said they suffered stress daily because of the sheer number of calls they receive and the lack of resources available to respond to them.

Almost three-quarters (71 per cent) said they had gone to work while physically unwell in the previous six months and more than a third (35 per cent) turned up at work despite being mentally unwell during that period.

Just over a fifth (21 per cent) also reported high levels of depressed mood, with almost half of the total number of officers who responded to the survey saying that they had suffered from exhaustion, with one in five experiencing insomnia.

One in 10 officers added drinking alcohol and/or taking prescription drugs is used as a coping mechanism, with 14 per cent reporting they drink more than a moderate amount of alcohol either most or all of the time.

Details of the study were outlined in a letter by SPF general secretary Calum Steele to Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie.

Mr Rennie said: "Earlier this month, I challenged the First Minister about the spiralling rates of mental health absences I had uncovered in the police.

"She didn't have a solution and now it emerges that this was just the tip of the iceberg. 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."

He added: "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.

"Officers feel that those at the top aren't doing anything like enough. They have been telling me for a long time that they don't get the support they need. Now it's there in black and white.

"The national force and Justice Secretary must today end their complacency and stop expecting police officers to operate in these conditions. They need to urgently co-ordinate a new emergency programme of support."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Police officers and staff do an excellent job in often very difficult circumstances and it is right that they have access to appropriate support.

"While the welfare and well-being of police officers and staff is the responsibility of the chief constable, we support initiatives being undertaken by Police Scotland to create a safe, positive and healthy working environment.

"This includes their occupational health service and employee assistance programme to aid officers and staff in caring for their mental health."

She added: "A service-wide Wellbeing and Engagement survey will launch early in the new year.

"By protecting the police revenue budget in real terms, we are delivering an additional £100 million throughout this Parliament, with annual funding now more than £1.2 billion."

Police Scotland deputy chief constable Fiona Taylor said: "The well-being of our officers and staff is a priority and we have a range of support mechanisms in place.

"An engagement and well-being 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."