Northern Ireland

Post traumatic stress disorder: Police Federation to launch initiative among PSNI officers

PSNI officers
Image caption The Police Federation said not enough was being done to tackle stress-related illness

The group that represents rank and file police officers in Northern Ireland is to launch an initiative to combat post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological illnesses.

The Police Federation said PSNI officers took more than 35,000 days off sick last year because of stress-related problems.

It said help is too slow because of a lack of resources.

It added that the PSNI and justice department are not doing enough.

It said that the initiative, that will launch next week, is essential because the number of officers suffering from stress-related illness is growing.

"It's been quite obvious to us for a long time that the resources required to alleviate this problem, to assist officers in carrying out their duty, haven't been made available," said Police Federation chairman Mark Lindsay.

Image caption The Police Federation's Mark Lindsay said action had to be taken over the issue of stress-related illnesses

"We felt that something has to be done immediately as we are now approaching a crisis point within the service."

Three officers who have been treated for PTSD and stress spoke to the BBC about their experiences, and problems encountered getting treatment.

None of them wanted to be identified.

The first, who we agreed to call Anne, has more than 20 years of service.

She has been off work with stress for five months after being traumatised by the death of someone she knew.

Anne had to wait for more than three months to see a police doctor after requesting a medical assessment.

She said she had to suffer in silence because of a macho culture within the police.

"There's a stigma. It's like a 'pull yourself together' attitude in the police," she said.

'Overstretched'

"You feel isolated, you don't want to speak to your superiors in case you're thought of any less.

"The PSNI don't seem to recognise how badly stress can affect people, or how many officers are suffering from it.

"The police doctors and counsellors are excellent, but they are severely overstretched because there simply aren't enough of them."

The second officer, who we agreed to call Matthew, was involved in a serious accident while on duty.

Part of a specialist team that recovers and identifies bodies, he has been diagnosed with PTSD.

"PTSD is a very debilitating illness," he said.

"It's not like having flu, you don't have it, get over it and carry on, it's something that keeps going and needs to be continually managed.

"What really matters is an understanding of it, and then the access to the appropriate care as quickly as possible."

Like Anne, Matthew said he knows many colleagues who are suffering from stress-related illnesses, but are facing long waits for treatment.

The third officer, who we have agreed to call Julie, is one of them.

Image caption PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton will be present at the Police Federation's annual conference

A police officer for more than 10 years, she has been off work for the past six months after being traumatised by a death while on duty.

Julie was told by a PSNI doctor that she required immediate counselling, but was then told she would have to wait at least 12 weeks to see a counsellor.

She sought private help and for the past three months has been paying £60 a week for cognitive behavioural therapy.

"I feel quite let down," she said.

"I honestly don't think the PSNI leadership team recognise the levels of stress their officers are under, and because of that it is going to become a much greater problem.

"I know quite a few colleagues who are off and some who have decided to leave the police because the help they needed simply wasn't there."

Details of the Police Federation initiative will be announced at its annual conference next week.

Chief Constable George Hamilton and Justice Minister Claire Sugden will be in the audience.

They will be told this is a problem they need to do more to address.