Suffolk and Norfolk announce new mental health support initiative
Norfolk and Suffolk Constabularies have announced a new collaboration to provide staff and officers with bespoke mental health support when they need it most.
The partnership between the constabularies and the Norfolk-based Walnut Tree Health and Wellbeing Community Interest Company (CIC) also includes immediate and round-the-clock support from its Community Response Team for staff and officers living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), trauma and complex mental ill health.
The Norfolk and Suffolk forces are believed to be the first forces in the country to be providing staff and officers with such a bespoke trauma support service that also includes round-the-clock support.
Key figures from Norfolk and Suffolk Constabularies and Walnut Tree Health and Wellbeing CIC will meet at its headquarters at Ketteringham Hall on Monday 11 February to pledge their continuing support to providing staff and officers with the best possible support so they can begin to rebuild their lives.
Detective Constable Steve Hunt, who has been a police officer with Norfolk Constabulary for the past 27 years, is one of 23 officers and staff who have been referred to the scheme since June last year.
Suffering from insomnia, flashbacks and nightmares, Steve was becoming increasingly angry about "the most insignificant things” and said he couldn't see a way out.
He said: "My last job was really quite traumatic and I felt pushed to the limit; I thought everyone would be better off without me. Ending my life was all I could think about.
"In the end, I poured my heart out to my GP and talked to my boss. I loved my job but it was all-consuming and I knew I needed to put myself first."
Within days, Norfolk Constabulary had referred him to Walnut Tree Health and Wellbeing CIC's bespoke trauma programme. Clinical oversight and input is provided by consultant psychologist Dr Roger Kingerlee, who works with the Walnut Tree from the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.
Steve, who was diagnosed with PTSD and clinical depression, said: "The support I received from my managers and colleagues was fantastic and it meant a lot; I realised that people did care and that was so important to changing the way I was feeling.
"Also, the fact that I was offered help so quickly was exactly what I needed because, when you're in that situation, getting immediate help can make all the difference to surviving this or not making it.
"Now I'm the person I was before all this started rather than the person I had become because of some the experiences I'd had.”
And what advice does he have for others?
"If you feel like you're losing control, talk to someone, don't keep it to yourself. Don't feel you're being judged because I got nothing but the best support and it felt like a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” he said.
Temporary Assistant Chief Constable of Suffolk Constabulary, David Cutler said: "Given the often relentless nature of the work that our officers and staff do, it is critical they know that support is available should they ever have any difficulties with stress or any other mental health issue.
"We take our duty of care to all our employees very seriously and are committed to supporting them at work and at home, so they know they can always call on us when they need help.”
Chief Constable of Norfolk, Simon Bailey said: "We expect our staff and officers to do their very best for our communities and in turn, the constabulary, as their employer, must do the very best by them.
"Mental health must not be a hidden illness but rather we must do everything to ensure the best possible support is provided at the earliest opportunity so our staff and officers don't suffer in silence and live in misery. This is another important step in that direction."
Luke Woodley, CEO of Walnut Tree Health and Wellbeing CIC, said: "I am delighted that we've been able use our experience and research of trauma through our work with military veterans, combined with our extensive knowledge of the diverse roles and culture of the police service, to create the Operational Stress Injuries Recovery and Intervention Service. This is a modern approach to psychological trauma that supports police officers and staff.
"We know that early diagnosis, combined with timely access to treatment is vital and leads to positive outcomes in terms of an individual's ability to maintain a lasting mental health recovery.”
Lorne Green, Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk, said: "This a hugely important and very welcome move. It is very easy, all too often, to think of a police force simply as an organisation rather than a body of individual women and men, doing extremely challenging and difficult work on our behalf.
"This collaboration gives round-the-clock bespoke trauma support for officers and staff when and where it is needed most. It is already making a genuine difference and rebuilding lives.”
Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore said, "It is really important that our officers and staff, who give so much to support the needs of the citizens they serve, know they have our support when they need it most.
"I welcome this partnership between the Constabulary and Walnut Tree Health and Wellbeing and I'm pleased to see we are leading the way nationally to support staff by providing this bespoke service.”
Caren Reeves Norfolk Police UNISON Branch Secretary and Mark Trask Suffolk Police Branch Secretary said: "Walnut Tree is already providing tailored, professional, specialist support for members who would otherwise be in an NHS queue; we are so fortunate to have this invaluable resource on our doorstep. Thanks to the chief officer team for continuing to work in the spirit of supporting the wellbeing of our people."
Andy Symonds, Chairman of the Norfolk Police Federation, speaking on behalf of Norfolk and Suffolk Police Federations, said: "Officers are not robots they are human beings, but also sons, daughters, mothers and fathers. They have families to return home to after long hard shifts at work dealing with these traumatic incidents.
"It is important that forces put in place support to enable officers to continue to cope with this type of work which is both physically and psychologically demanding. We'd like to thank both Chief Constables in Norfolk and Suffolk for recognising this ever-growing need and putting their full support behind this unique service, which I know has already saved lives and supported extremely unwell officers back into the workplace.”
The specialist programme offered by Walnut Tree Health and Wellbeing CIC includes assessment, treatment and crisis support for those suffering with complex mental ill health needs brought about by out of the ordinary traumatic experiences.
Over the last eight months, 23 officers and staff across the two counties have been referred to the support programme and are starting to see some significant results.