Concerns over impact of pandemic on officers’ mental health

The Police Federation’s new Welsh affairs lead says she’s worried about the long-term impact of dealing with Covid-19 on police officers’ mental health.

Nicky Ryan, former Gwent Police Federation secretary, said that officers and other emergency workers have been on the frontline throughout the pandemic to keep the public safe while dealing with the pressures that everyone else faces.

Speaking during an interview on the Gareth Lewis programme on BBC Radio Wales, Nicky said she was concerned about the effect the pandemic would have on officers’ wellbeing.

“It’s a huge concern for us,” Nicky said, “Police officers, like doctors, nurses, NHS staff, have been on the frontline of the nation’s response to the pandemic.

“We’ve sought to help stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect the NHS while keeping communities safe.

“I can cite colleagues who have moved out of their own homes in order to protect vulnerable family members.

“So officers, like all emergency services workers, have made huge sacrifices, but while doing this they’ve got the same pressures as other people.

“So they’ve had to worry about the pandemic, they’ve had concerns about vulnerable family members, and may well have faced money worries due to a partner losing their job or being furloughed.

“It’s all taking its toll.”

According to research for the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) 76 per cent of key workers – including police officers – say their mental health has been negatively impacted by the Covid crisis.

The most common reason was being separated from or unable to see friends, family or romantic partners (60 per cent). More than half (52 per cent) said the reason was increased stress or difficulties at work due to the pandemic – significantly higher than those who are in work but who are not key workers (35 per cent). And the third main reason was anxiety or concern about friends or family members catching coronavirus (55 per cent).

Nicky said: “We know officers are struggling with their mental health. We know that some officers are struggling with long Covid. And exhaustion is playing a part in that.

“An incident like Mayhill, an incident like Sebastopol, there aren’t extra officers. We often see in the media that extra officers are drafted into assist, there are no extra officers. Those are officers who have had rest days or annual leave cancelled.

“Our concerns are that will long-term take its toll on their health.”

Nicky called for clarity from the Welsh Government over any changes to coronavirus rules and regulations to help officers on the ground.

She said: “Welsh police officers have had more than 90 pieces of legislation to interpret, to implement, to enforce, compared to 60 our English counterparts have had to deal with.

“Some of that legislation has been brought in at very short notice. It’s not been clear.

“An example of that was the five-mile rule, which was discussed. If it was unclear for officers who were looking to enforce it, how the public are supposed to interpret that legislation is a bit of a mystery.”

She added: “We need more clarity, more notice of the introduction and implementation so everybody knows what’s coming.”

Nicky also urged members of the public to help police identify those responsible for the rioting in Mayhill on Thursday.

Cars were burnt out and windows smashed following a vigil for 19-year-old Ethan Powell, who collapsed and died on Wednesday.

Nicky said: “My condolences go to the family of Ethan Powell. What was supposed to be a vigil to respectfully reflect on a man’s life, turned into a violent protest, which is what nobody would’ve wanted.

“If people know the identities of those who were involved, please dial 101, ring South Wales Police and let the police deal with these people.”

Listen to Nicky’s interview with Gareth Lewis on BBC Radio Wales. The interview starts at 42 minutes and four seconds.

A BBC Wales News report also considered what was behind recent violence and included comments from Nicky.

Read the report.