190 South Yorkshire Police officers took time off for mental ill health in last year

A record 13,294 UK police officers have been signed off work over the past year due to stress, depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – 80% up on a decade ago.

A Freedom of Information request to all forces covered the financial year 2022/23. This year’s figure is slightly up on last year (13,263), and much higher than pre-pandemic levels. In 2012-13, when Police Oracle first carried out the survey, just 6,294 officers were signed off work for poor mental health.

In South Yorkshire – over the last financial year – 190 officers took time off for mental ill health.

Steve Kent, Chair of South Yorkshire Police Federation, said: “We have been warning that mental health issues within policing are on the rise massively and we genuinely are not scaremongering when we say that this could become and epidemic before long.

“There needs to be sharp attitude change by central government on this growing crisis including centralised funding coming to forces. This includes annual check ups for ALL officers on their mental and physical health.

“Not just front line as there are officers working off the frontline who have incredible workloads and who still have to deal with trauma every single day. We at SYPF are doing our best to assist with the counselling provision for our insurance members.

“But this needs radical change and funding for every force up and down the country to be able to provide and uplift to the provision. There also needs to be better understanding of what is leading officers to get into this position. This links in with the need for better funding into policing to relieve the strain on officers who have in some cases outrageously high workloads.”

All but three forces responded to the survey, and two thirds (28 out of 43) reported higher levels of mental-health-related absence than a year ago. The UK’s biggest force, the Metropolitan Police Service, reported the highest number of absences, a huge 1,846. The second highest figure was from Police Scotland, at 1,087.

Forces with a high percentage rise in absences include Devon & Cornwall (up 155%), Bedfordshire (up 58%) and West Mercia (up 55%).

The Police Federation of England and Wales’s Wellbeing Lead, Sue Honeywill, said: “With officer numbers proportionally at an all-time low, officer morale at its lowest and the workload at its greatest, it can be no surprise that we are witnessing extremely high levels of officers signed off for mental ill-health related reasons.

“Officers’ pensions have been eroded, assaults on officers are increasing and the cost-of-living crisis has squeezed pay to such a level that we know some are forced to resort to food banks to stay afloat. On top of this, media reporting paints a picture of incompetence and immorality within the service that is not a true representation of the overwhelming majority of decent and hard-working officers.”

Sue added that she “feared these figures will remain high” as the Home Office is demanding that officers investigate all crimes more thoroughly, but is not providing extra resources. She stressed that police chiefs must do more to protect the rights and working conditions of their officers.

A Home Office spokesperson responded: “The Government is committed to ensuring police officers are provided with appropriate mental health support .

“We have made significant progress by ensuring that improved mental health training and support is provided, and we continue to fund the National Police Wellbeing Service (NPWS), with £3m for 2023/24.”

The NPWS has developed a number of initiatives to support officer wellbeing, a National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) spokesperson said, but they acknowledged that there was more work to be done.

They said: “By providing services like occupational health provision, along with additional training and health checks, we are better equipped to support the wellbeing of our officers and staff. The work of Oscar Kilo makes a real difference, and has meant that more police officers and staff feel OK to say that they’re not OK.

“We recognise, however, that managing wellbeing is a never-ending process and that there is always more to do. We are committed to continuing to work with colleagues in the health service, charities, and staff associations, to ensure that we are always being guided by the best practice and research, and ultimately, ensuring that we are doing everything we can to support our people.”