When will they ever learn?

When will they ever learn?

June 3, 2016

The Victoria Police mental health review-summary report was released on 31 May 2016. This review referred to the negative views of mental health issues in the Victoria Police and made 39 recommendations including a prevalence study to gain accurate data on the organisational mental health and suicide risk profile with the possibility of other jurisdictions also becoming involved; developing an organisationwide comprehensive mental health literacy program involving mandatory participation by all employees and leaders; augment the existing police psychology unit and identify progress in reducing mental health stigma and develop a program to focus on expected behaviours and manage inappropriate behaviours. (full report)


These appear sensible recommendations. One of the advantages of long-term involvement in this field is that I am aware of previous similar reviews that made sensible recommendations including the development of the police psychology unit.

However the inescapable fact remains that Police work is inherently unpleasant. Police are required to repetitively deal with unpleasant people, unpleasant situations and are sometimes in fear for their life. There is no other job where there is a realistic prospect that a person may not return home from work because they have been killed.


Policing takes place in an organisation that is hierarchically based, performance focused and where people with mental health issues are not able to undertake full operational duties and frequently there is no adequate work available for them and there is always a stigma about mental health issues.

I remember speaking to a federal Minister for Health some years ago about the stigma of mental illness. He rubbished that notion and I said to him “How would you feel if your colleagues saw you coming out of a psychiatrist’s office?” He had the grace to admit that he would be embarrassed.

All of us who see police officers have heard of place breaking down having seen one to many fatalities or other such similar distressing experiences. This is particularly a problem for those who work in the sexual offences unit and those who do road patrol work. Most of the recommendations deal with the aftermath of the development of mental health issues. Particular emphasis is placed on the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams with recommendations that they be allocated police psychology unit support to provide mental health screening, They should have opt out provisions either on a temporary or permanent basis and a supervision model.

it is very well to talk about changing the culture, implementing leadership programs, education sessions and so forth but, in practice, how does that work when people are exposed to repetitive trauma?

Maybe we need to think of the United States Air Force flight surgeon model. The flight surgeon has the power to stop someone flying. We also need to think about what do we do to provide for people with mental illness to return to the workforce. We know that going back to work as soon as possible is best for people with work injuries but not if they are going back into the same work situation that caused the injury.



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