This project seeks to understand how interactions with vulnerable people impact police staff’s mental health and how organisations can best meet staff wellbeing needs that arise as a result.
The project is a collaboration between the Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre and the Institute for Mental Health Research at York (IMRY).
Police work is inherently complex. From frontline neighbourhood and response officers, through to civilian staff, including those based in specialised units, police staff often deal with high-demand, stressful, and distressing situations.
Additionally, the police are going through unprecedented changes. The loss of significant numbers of police during austerity followed by the recent uplift in new police recruits has created a much younger and more inexperienced workforce than ever before. Coupled with retention and absence issues, this is significantly altering the make-up of the workforce. This places further demands on an organisation already grappling with how to face new and shifting social and cultural challenges. Nonetheless, while emergency workers, including police, are more likely than the general public to report stress-related mental health problems, research indicates they are less likely to take time off work for these issues.
There have been promising developments in recent years, such as the creation of the National Police Wellbeing Service Oscar Kilo and the Police Covenant pledging the government to recognise the wellbeing needs of police and their families, which was enshrined in legislation in 2022. Police Care UK and the University of Cambridge have collaborated in the trauma resilience in policing project. This has also underscored the importance of the focus on police mental health and wellbeing.
However, questions still remain as to how best to identify the support needs of current police staff and whether the onset of mental health and wellbeing issues arising from work-based stressors can be pre-empted.
This project aims to understand the needs of the police workforce arising from contact with vulnerable populations. It will explore how well those needs are met by the existing provision, and what changes could help to reduce long-term absence and turnover.
Specifically, the team will:
- Map organisational policies and practice arrangements that are designed to support the mental health and wellbeing of police staff who work with vulnerable people;
- Identify innovative and effective approaches to prevent and manage stress and mental distress induced by working with vulnerable groups.
Initially, the project team are consulting informally with police professionals engaged in mental health and wellbeing locally and nationally. This includes force occupational health and wellbeing leads and representatives of the College of Policing and National Police Wellbeing Service.
The team will then conduct case studies with two police forces, examining localised mental health and wellbeing policy and practice. This will involve focus groups and interviews with current and former police officers and staff.
Alongside this, the team will undertake a survey of existing provision and staff perception of needs. Findings from this stage will be used to determine the exact focus of the second phase of the project.
- Professor Adam Crawford (Co-Director of the Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre)
- Professor Lina Gega (Director of the Institute of Mental Health Research at York)
- Dr Claire Warrington (Research Fellow in Policing and Mental Health at the Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre and the Institute of Mental Health Research at York)