One Police Scotland officer or staff member referred to counselling every day, figures reveal

At least one Police Scotland officer or staff member is referred for counselling on average every day, official figures have revealed.

Jan 10, 2023
By Paul Jacques

Almost 1,000 calls were made to a phoneline which helps the force’s struggling employees deal with wellbeing matters, money worries and concerns over job stress or bullying and harassment.

Of the 985 calls made to the helpline last year to November, 610 people took part in a mental health assessment, with 387 being referred for counselling.

The Scottish Police Federation (SPF) has told Scotland’s justice and social affairs magazine 1919 that these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.

The figures have emerged as Holyrood’s criminal justice committee demands answers over the force’s policies and procedures when dealing with employees experiencing mental ill-health.

In response to a letter sent by the committee, Deputy Chief Officer David Page said Police Scotland recognised that the “significant demands placed on both police officers and staff are ever increasing, which in turn increases the stresses and strain they are under in terms of their own health and wellbeing and in particular their mental health”.

Last year, 1919 revealed almost 77,000 working days were lost as a result of “psychological disorders” in 2021/22.

It was a 22 per cent jump from 62,783 in a five-year period and brings the total number of mental health absences since 2017/18 to more than 350,000.

David Hamilton, Chair of the SPF, described it as a “crisis”.

He said: “Police Scotland’s own figures are really bad, but the true figures are even worse.

“In addition to these cases, many officers are having to seek counselling options through the NHS, by self-funding or through charities such as Police Care UK.

“The nature and experiences of policing make officers particularly vulnerable to mental ill-health and it is no exaggeration to say that this is a crisis.”

Criminal justice committee convener Audrey Nicoll wrote to both Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority in October requesting an urgent review of several procedures following private evidence sessions with six officers.

She has now asked for further clarification on a number of points, including the helpline, after stating the Police Scotland response did not address all of the committee’s specific requests.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesperson Jamie Greene said the counselling referral figures were “deeply concerning”.

He told 1919: “They point to hardworking officers and other Police Scotland staff being completely overwhelmed and struggling to cope.

“While it is welcome that this counselling support is in place for those who require it, this should not be the reality for those working within Police Scotland.”

Scottish Labour justice spokesperson Pauline McNeill added: “Policing in Scotland is under a huge amount of pressure and these worrying figures show it is taking a toll on officers.

“Looming budget cuts risk making a bad situation even worse.”

Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor told 1919: “Policing is a relentless but rewarding vocation which places significant demand on physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

“Our people are highly motivated by public service and they work tirelessly to improve the lives of people and communities in Scotland every day, against a backdrop of increasing demand.

“The safety and wellbeing of officers and staff – and their families – is a priority for Police Scotland and we have a range of mechanisms to support our people across their psychological, physical, financial and social wellbeing.

“This includes a 24/7 employee assistance programme, a network of wellbeing champions, post-trauma risk assessment and we are a key partner within Lifelines Scotland, a wellbeing resource tailored to our blue light emergency responders.

“We have a duty and an opportunity to build and maintain a service and culture founded on our values to improve the experiences of our people. Police Scotland is determined to continue to drive improvements to support our people and provide them with the tools they need to do their job.”

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