Garda Review in 2006 (UnEdited Version).
An Garda Siochana is the Irish Police Service. The Garda Review is a monthly journal issued to over 20,000 readers on a monthly basis through the Garda Representative Association.
The work of An Garda Siochana can be highly stressful at times, and is one of the few jobs where one continually faces the effects of murders, violence, accidents and serious personal injury. Some of the duties of Gardaí can be inherently dangerous and others can suddenly become so. You can witness scenes of great trauma and are exposed to personal danger; routinely – yet it is evident that these incidents are handled and dealt with in a professional manner.
Occasionally a particularly bad episode or incident may linger and present problems for the individual. Even the most ordinary and mundane of jobs can become stressful at times. Members pledge an oath to conduct your duties without fear, favour, malice or ill will towards others. This in itself is both an honour and a burden, and carries with it a responsibility that goes far beyond the typical nine to five working day.
When you look around and ask yourself, does the responsibility of your position equal the level of support you receive? If you believe it does then you might like to stop reading now. It is my belief that An Garda Síochána requires a stand alone comprehensive therapeutic support service designed for members of the force; a service that offers each member and their families if required the opportunity to express any concerns and difficulties they may have. A service that will if possible attend scenes of trauma to provide you with support and information on accessing appropriate support, that will help co-ordinate or offer debriefing sessions along with your peer support service, all with confidentiality that meets strict professional standards.
This proposed service should represent a collection of on-going identified issues and present them to Garda management in order to bring about positive and lasting change for each individual member of the force and the organisation as a whole. I propose that all members who suffer trauma should be mandated to attend such therapy as a matter of course, in this way the stigma that exists within AGS in relation to therapeutic intervention will be lifted completly. I base this belief on research I carried out in October 2004 into The Need for a Confidential Support Service within An Garda Síochána, and on such research as the Health, Safety and Welfare in An Garda Síochána, commissioned by the Garda Representative Association (GRA) in 2003. The latter highlighted many health and safety concerns throughout the force.
I also base this belief on my experience, as I have worked in the caring profession for over twelve years - gaining extensive first hand experience of having to work through crisis and trauma, and over many years as a qualified therapist I have worked voluntarily with and helped people who suffer stress, Anxiety, False Allegation and Isolation in the workplace and life in general. The services that I am recommending are not only important to the overall health and welfare of each member of the force but is also a service that will benefit the organisation, as a healthier workforce makes for a better service all round.
“One way of anticipating risk and providing relief from stress is to offer counselling services”.
The research that I carried out was based on issuing a number of ‘stations questionnaires’, and interviewing a number of officers at a face to face level. I received a 91% response to my questionnaire, it is normally expected that a survey of this type would receive a level of around 5% response, the level of time and energy each of those surveyed took to express their concerns made for alarming reading.
Of those surveyed, 68% said they would use a confidential support service if offered one and 75% of those interviewed said they would also use such a service. Another question asked how you cope with stress? Nobody indicated they would seek support from senior officers, 36% indicated they have ‘a few drinks’, 29% said they would talk things through with their family or partner; while 41% indicated that they just get on with the job and hope it will pass.
All appear to be ways of coping with the stresses of the job - but some will in fact add to and may even compound such issues. This does not reflect the difficulties families may have in helping a member through such times of stress and upset. With 83% of those questioned in the survey said they felt fearful when working, all of those interviewed said they too felt fearful when working. Fear is a natural response to identified potential dangers. Another question asked ‘do you feel isolated from the public?’ and this yielded a 71% response indicating ‘yes’. This in itself directly affects the mission of the Garda as a service for the public.
It is a Garda’s mission to protect the personal dignity and human rights of the community. Surely each member should be respected and have their dignity protected as well?
The study commissioned by the GRA into the Health, Welfare and Safety in An Garda Síochána showed a damming picture of working conditions in ten stations throughout the country. Poor working conditions and environment will add to the level of stress, unhappiness and isolation. The nature of the job is stressful; most would be aware of this before joining and I am sure that it becomes increasingly more obvious as the career progresses. However, this does not take away from the fact that such an obvious stress-filled job should have sufficient and proactive counter measures of support through these times that cause concern. All of those interviewed said the job had become more stressful since they joined the force.
A definition of stress can be seen as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand made upon it.”
Dr. Hans Selye
In the case of Gardaí this demand may be the constant and real threat of violence and the changing needs of the working environment. Working time can be perceived as times of quiet boredom through to times of crisis and trauma. It’s the changes in environment that results in the body having to adapt; these changes are immediate and automatic and the resulting stress can help the person to perform and meet the challenges presented - or it can be negative and present in the form of distress which can make someone upset and unwell.
The reaction humans have to stress results in chemical changes in the body, the stimulant hormone adrenaline increases that pours into the blood stream with other hormones producing changes in our bodies designed to protect us, this can be seen as the ‘fight or flight response’ - it provides both the energy and strength needed to either stay and fight or to run away from the perceived danger.
Gardaí can face this response several times throughout each working shift; which I believe can increase the negative affects of stress. To control and help this there have to be changes; change in behaviour, beliefs, ways of thinking, lifestyle and subsequently environment.
When we deal with the causes of stress we can help elevate it, in the case of members of An Garda Síochána, one way of helping is to provide a service that allows the individuals a safe and secure place to work-through their perceptions and difficulties. This in turn can help to relieve the problems and symptoms and also help develop the understanding, awareness and coping skills of the individual, helping them to be more readily able to deal with the everyday and real stressors of the job.
The issues of stress and therapeutic support in police work are considered to be vital in many police forces throughout the world. In the UK they have a number of welfare associations catering for the needs of their officers. In the majority of forces throughout the UK there are internal counseling and therapeutic support services offering confidential support to those officers in specialist roles - and all serving members. These services are supported and funded by management and government alike.
In Sweden the welfare and well-being of rank-and-file police officers is vital to their modernisation process. They realize the high-risks associated with the policing profession. In September 2003, the National Police Board in Sweden outlined the need for psychosocial support for police officers and recognised the immense need for both crisis support and preventive measures in catering for the welfare of its officers. They realized that policing has an inherent risk attached to it that can’t be minimized, but they have increased their efforts and time into developing support services and therefore prevent and minimizing the detrimental effects of such situations.
In An Garda Siochana there is a committed team of only seven welfare officers; one sergeant and one inspector assigned to the welfare needs of over 12,000 members. This level of support is considered by management to be sufficient and consider the welfare needs of those working through such difficult situations to be well served by this complement.
The 2003 report into health, safety and welfare highlighted that even basic health and safety legislation from 1989 was not enforced in the Garda Síochána. The authorities in Sweden have prioritized these issues. Most recently in Northern Ireland, some 5000 claimants of the PSNI are taking legal action against the Chief Constable of the PSNI over the lack of psychological support being offered to those that suffered stress as a result of carrying out their duties. These cases will not centre on the extent of such trauma suffered, but whether the successive Chief Constables and police authority had a duty, in law, to care for their officers to protect them from trauma, or at least, from its consequences. (Quote)“…in Northern Ireland, some 5000 claimants of the PSNI are taking legal action against the Chief Constable of the PSNI over the lack of psychological support being offered to those that suffered stress as a result of carrying out their duties.”
This will highlight the need of both the management and government to take the issue of welfare and therapeutic Support more seriously. Hopefully this will add an incentive to move in line with the many police forces throughout the world - and that this will happen before officers here suffer enough to seek compensation like their colleagues in the North.
My research indicates a belief by some that members are not being respected, understood, appreciated or supported by management. One Garda anonymously stated, “Abused by the public, used by the state and hated by the media; while doing a job that none of them would do.” This embodies a view of a service that is in need.
“The most widespread negative effect of work on mental health is stress”
World Health Organization, Ministerial Conference on Mental Health.
The role of policing appears in general to be tough, strong and insular. Of those surveyed 71% said they would have difficulty sharing the issue of stress with their colleagues. This inability and difficulty for some to ask for support continues to perpetuate the perceived culture that you don’t need support. Sadly this attitude is old and redundant and it is up to you to change it. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”.
Were do you stand? Hoping it will pass, drinking or talking with friends or family. In my survey, 76% said they never feel supported in their jobs. I can tell you that the first line of organisational support should come from those in a position to effect change and offer support, the second line comes from the members themselves and the third line in this case comes from the public - who appear to judge members of the Force on a mixture of newspaper reports, rumour and innuendo; but have a responsibility to support their service and demand change if required.
Now, there has never before been so much written about the Gardaí, all seemingly negative and that must make the life of a Garda even more difficult. The work of Gardaí has also changed drastically over recent years there has been an increase in violent crime, drugs and firearms offences. Members are expected to meet these issues head-on with what appears to be little support. Even in the face of the research there continues to be little change in acknowledging that extra support is required.
Through it all members continue to provide a service that, for the majority of the public, is appreciated and respected. Yet this does not appear to be reflected in the treatment by those who can effect change. It is the firm belief of those who support you that the development of this type of support service is the start of this change. Members have many committed people working on your behalf in the form of welfare officers and the representative associations. Now is the time to work towards the positive and lasting change.
By Mark Reddy
This link is to the list of Executive Members of the GRA: http://www.gra.cc/executive.shtml
This is a link to a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Site: