Hundreds of police suffering mental health problems, officers' groups warn

Hundreds of police are suffering from mental health problems and have "never felt so vulnerable" due to cuts and a rise in violent crime, officers' groups have warned.

A Welfare Support Programme run by the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) and the Police Firearms Officers Association (PFOA) now has 311 members registered on it, up from two last summer.

Three have been "saved from suicide", the Federation said, while hundreds of others are being closely monitored.

John Murphy, health and safety lead for PFEW, said: "We are seeing a marked increase in the number of police officers suffering from severe mental health issues. We have been involved with officers who have gone missing and were considered high suicide risks. In other cases, we have been able to step in when officers felt unable to engage with their force welfare support or the NHS was not able to help."

Thirty five forces in England and Wales, the Ministry of Defence and British Transport Police are registered for the welfare scheme.

Mark Williams, chief executive of the PFOA, said: "Each month we are seeing an increase in calls and referrals. The fact that we are helping so many officers within such a short time demonstrates there is a real crisis out there."

In April, research by the charity Mind suggested that one in four emergency services workers had thought about taking their own life.

Che Donald, mental health lead for PFEW, said police officers are feeling the pressure due to budget cuts.

"There have been unprecedented cuts to police officer numbers since 2010, with forces losing 20,000 officers. However, the demand placed on the police service has not decreased, with overall crime rates up, including large increases in violent crime. Police officers have never felt so vulnerable; they are often working in highly stressful fast-moving environments along with being exposed to horrific situations, which takes its toll.

"Coupled with the fact it was announced recently that officers were owed in excess of 400,000 rest days - which normally provide essential time to relax and re-charge batteries - it is no wonder we are seeing an increase in sickness levels including mental health and psychological issues. This, together with a reduction in resources and manpower, can lead to the perfect storm."

The Police Federation represents nearly 122,000 officers up to and including the rank of chief inspector.