Addressing the Mental Health Crisis in the Security Profession
I have been an Ambassador for a veteran’s mental health charity, PTSD Resolution, for a number of years and with many others, have both supported their work and assisted with raising much needed funding. Hearing from some of the veterans who received successful treatment via the charity has been very rewarding.
However, it was only when I set up the UK operation for the International Foundation for Protection Officers (IFPO) in 2020 I started to become aware of the extent of the mental health and wellbeing situation with frontline officers.
It would be fair to say that in many ways I am “late to the party”, but I am here now and keen to do what I can to improve the situation.
I must add that I am not clinically trained and not qualified to offer mental health advice. The IFPO has an engaged and committed Advisory Board some of whom have had personal experiences of dealing with mental health issues, collectively we recognise the serious nature of the current situation and are even keen to be involved.
I was honored to have been invited to be a judge of the ACS Pacesetters “Officers of Distinction Awards” in 2021 and whilst there were many officers undertaking difficult and challenging assignments it was shocking to see how many had had to deal with a mental health incident: I’d estimate around one third.
I was again a judge in 2022 and the number of incidents involving mental health had increased significantly. It seemed clear that the problem was twofold. Officers need the skills and training to recognise mental health issues in others and have some guidelines as to how to react.
Secondly officers need the skills and training to recognise how their own lives and behavior is affected by the roles they do and that they are supported by their employers and the industry as a whole.
Setting The Scene
It may be worth looking at the current MH landscape, so at the risk of bombarding people with information, here we go.
Mental disorders involve significant disturbances in thinking, emotional regulation, or behavior.
Ø According to the WHO, 1 in every 8 people in the world live with a mental disorder.
Ø In most cases, effective prevention and treatment options exist.
Ø Most people do not have access to effective care.
Ø There are many different types of mental disorders.
ü Anxiety Disorders – 301m
ü Depression – 280m
ü Bipolar – 40m
ü Schizophrenia – 24m
ü Eating Disorders – 14m
ü Disruptive behavior and dissocial disorders – 40 million people
ü Neurodevelopmental disorders
ü Intellectual development, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD
ü PTSD – High in conflict-affected settings (e.g. LE, military, security) .
The Cost of Mental Health
As is the situation with the purchase and implementation of security services, systems and procedures, it is often the case that it can help justify actions such as supporting their employees through mental health issues if there is a business case that can be demonstrated.
Ø The Telegraph reported on 29 August that “Police officers took a record 500,000 days off because of mental ill health, new data have revealed, as a former watchdog blamed the trauma of dealing with the sick and dying during pandemic.
Figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act from police forces showed that the number of days taken off because of mental ill health rose by nine per cent in a year, from 457,154 in 2020 to 497,154 in 2021”
Ø The UK’s Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Labour Force Survey has found that 17.5 million working days were due to mental health-related sickness absence. (2018/19) costing the economy at least £2.4billion.
o Additionally, staff turnover is reduced, if people are supported, which represents a saving of time and money in finding replacements.
Ø A report by PWC in Australia showed that every “dollar invested on a single action designed to improve mental health, on average business can expect to see a return on investment (ROI) of $2.30. This represents a 33% reduction in absenteeism, presentism and compensation claims.”
Ø In the USA, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), depression causes an estimated 200 million lost workdays each year at the cost of between $17 billion – $44 billion to employers. Half of the employees with depression are untreated.
Ø 2019 survey by Deloitte in Canada showed the actual economic cost of Mental Health was CAD $50bn.
Ø Employees with depression miss 6 to 25 more days of work per year and their productivity affects between 13 to 29% of their time at work.
Ø Globally, depression costs companies $2.5 trillion per year.
Mental Health can, or course, also have security implications, some examples being.
Ø In 64 cases out of a total of 132 reported mass shootings in the United States, the shooter(s) displayed prior signs of mental health problems.
o In 17 cases out of 132, there were no signs of mental health issues in the shooters.
Ø In the UK, up to 70% of people referred to PREVENT may have mental health issues’.
o Only a small minority of people with psychological illnesses who are radicalized then act on their beliefs.
Ø The Center for Development of Security Excellence lists Mental Health as a “Concerning Behaviour” in relation to Insider Threat
We also cannot and should not ignore the instances of suicide. The Office for National Statistics publish suicide data for England here. Some points from this are …
- 4912 suicides were registered in 2020..
- The overall suicide rate was 10.0 per 100,000
- The male suicide rate for was 15.3 per 100,000 compared to the female suicide rate of 4.9 per 100,000
- Males aged 45-49 continue to have the highest suicide rate (23.8 per 100,000)
- There is regional variation in the suicide rates.
This is a large and complex problem and not one that can be fixed easily or quickly however, we must start somewhere.
Security Minds Matter
Following on from some conversations, a group of security professionals from across the sector have established the Security Minds Matter project and have a small, initial Steering Group with wide-ranging experience.
It is very gratifying that the project has the support of the Security Industry Authority, who hosted the first meeting in July. This is still at an early stage but some items we are looking at:
Ø Possible changes to relevant British Standards to include mental health / wellbeing provision.
Ø SIA Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS)
Ø ACS companies are assessed annually against many criteria
Ø Health and Safety is included, but not Mental Health or Wellbeing
Ø ACS companies employ around 50% of licensed officers.
Ø Produce a Z-card – “Mental Health Awareness for front line operatives”
Ø Give away at events and meetings shared with employers
Ø We have already set up a web site to share resources www.securitymindsmatter.org
IFPO have with partners developed some short, easy-to-access Mental Health Awareness programs as part of our eLearning platform and have other more advanced ones under development.
Details can be found be at https://learn.ifpo.uk/
I am grateful for the opportunity that WtD has presented in inviting me to write this article and also grateful to the other security media who are supporting this important issue.
Also, we are keen to take the opportunity to speak at events, keep this issue in people’s minds. In the next few months, I will be speaking at the ASIS GSX event in Atlanta, Georgia, The Emergency Services Show in Birmingham and Total Security Summit in Manchester and happy to look at any other invitations to speak.
So, in summary a lot of work to do, but hopefully we have made a start.