Garda Support Proposal
By Mark Reddy
Garda Review 2008
Policing is considered to be one of the most stressful and at times challenging careers to be undertaken. It is estimated by the World Health Organisation that within any work environment approximately 12% of the workforce can be affected negatively by the adverse effects of stress, of this 12% it is expected that 4% will require intervention of a therapeutic nature. Further studies of minor psychiatric disorders in working populations indicate a prevalence of between 270 and 370 per 1,000 employees. Most of these disorders are believed to arise as a result of excessive stress either in personal life or at work. These conditions are an important determinant of sickness and absence, and are the second most common cause of absences lasting more than 21 days. Work effectiveness and staff turnover are also affected and the economic cost to industry is enormous.
Policing as a profession goes beyond the typical nine to five working day and involves the most extreme forms of human contact; violence, murder, suicide, road carnage, conflict and serious personal injury. The culture within Policing is considered insular in nature and in my experience this directly impacts and adversely affects the way members seek support and deal with issues of a traumatic nature. The impact of trauma and stress on members of An Garda Siochana is pervasive and damaging to the individual members themselves and their families; impacting on morale and the service quality. There is no doubt that a healthy work environment is one in which staff have made health and health promotion a priority and part of their working lives. Having an effective Confidential Occupational Support service ensures this provision is supplied on the ground to all that need it.
Encouragingly, 68% said that they would use a confidential support service if it were provided.
Distress and trauma are being dealt with through a culture of non-acceptance and avoidance which can lead to worsening depression, abuse of alcohol and drugs and dependence in the most tragic of cases. Privately members will themselves discuss this openly; it was at one time discussed in online forums were members could conceal their identities however even this appears to have reached the stage were this form of confidential discussion is becoming more covert through the use of confidential private messaging.
Over the years I have heard and supported members strictly voluntarily who are left a drift in a sea of upset and trauma stemming from having no confidence in the support that is on offer within the service and their utter sense of upset, frustration and resentment at how such issues are apparently looked upon with the organisation as a whole. It would be common for members in need to consider that the politics of the organisation, their difficulty in accepting change and fear of being considered liable in someway are the contributing factors to the lack of open discussion and debate in regard to changing policy and developing an appropriate confidential support service for all members and their families..
The one constant defining factor in every member’s arsenal is their mental health and without this members are prone to make mistakes, become unwell and not carry out their duties to the best of their abilities. Members go from scenes of stress and trauma on a routine basis in each shift and are expected to remain un-phased, professional and alert at all times. I can confidently say that without proper supports many members’ health and ability to carry out their duties effectively will never be achieved fully, resulting in a less professional and proactive service for the public for whom they serve.
All possible avenues of support have been examined, researched and discussed in regard to the unique needs of those within this organisation. There is an immediate requirement for a Confidential Therapeutic Support Service for all Gardaí and their families. Studies have shown that confidentiality above all else is the corner stone to success in any such services. Considering this and the current research in regard to the need for therapeutic support and in order to encourage usage of such a service I propose that any such service is a standalone confidential, with effective powers to influence policy change and advise in regards to issues of a welfare nature within the force.
A service that provides therapeutic support in strictest confidence manned by qualified and experienced therapists of the highest calibre. A service that can when possible attend scenes of trauma to offer members on the ground immediate and proactive support. It should be noted that it is widely accepted and supported by published research that any monies spent on effective staff support provisions results in a return and increase of such funds through worker productivity and a lack of absences through sicknesses.
I also propose that all members who experience trauma are required to attend such therapeutic support. By removing choice after experiencing trauma it elevates the stigma that most consider to be present if they seek support without it being a routine part of Garda Policy, this begins the process of change in culture and understanding of such processes.
Trauma and distress have a very narrow window of time in which appropriate supports should be accessed. This is widely accepted in police forces throughout the democratic world. The most effective policing service needs officers to feel supported at the time when they need it most. The solution is cost-effective; strengthening productivity and worker morale leading to a more proactive and efficient service.
This service would be distinctly separate to the current employee assistance scheme in regard to its remit to help officers and there families with issues of a mental health nature and to maintain absolute confidentiality and confidence of the clients.
About the Author
I am a qualified psychologist and psychotherapist with fifteen years experience in the caring profession. In 2002 I established a voluntary support service for those suffering Stress, Trauma, Depression, PTSD, Bullying and False Allegations in the workplace. Through this service I worked with members and their families in need as a result of the trauma experienced in the job and its impact on family members.
I have carried out independent research into the area of having a more proactive confidential support service for AGS, the difficulties faced by Gay and Lesbian members of the force, and wrote my thesis into the area of Therapeutic Support for the Gardai for my Primary Degree in Psychotherapy.