In an industry that has historically demonised those who suffer from mental health conditions, the Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA) believes the AFP is “immature, ineffective and insufficiently resourced” to help staff with mental health struggles.
Police Federation of Australia (PFA), the national voice of Australian Policing, has been asked by a Parliamentary Enquiry to provide evidence relating to the mental health of first responders on Wednesday (7 November) at Parliament House, with the AFPA also making a personal submission.
In a report titled Senate Inquiry into the Mental Health of First Responders, the AFPA says the trust between the AFP and its employees has been eroded by the lack of care exhibited over an extended period of time.
The report, which was published on 23 August, states that the AFP does not possess the appropriate internal capability to provide psychological assistance to employees.
“Policing in the modern age must adopt a greater and more sophisticated understanding of the causes and treatment of a mental injury,” the report said. “Attitudes of the past must be abandoned and each disclosure of a mental health condition by an AFP employee should be considered recoverable by the AFP and Comcare. Unfortunately, this remains a long way from reality.
“Trust between the AFP and its employees has been eroded by the lack of care exhibited over an extended period of time. It cannot be recovered until the organisation can demonstrate it is no longer actively seeking to cause harm to its people.”
The report states that if an AFP employee discloses a mental health condition, their career can be hindered or suffer serious consequences, due to a “culture of active avoidance with respect to diagnosis and disclosure”.
“In part, this is because policing has been a male-dominated occupation and engagement where the emotional consequences of police work have not been encouraged. The term ‘broken biscuit’ was used to disparagingly describe those who were not fully functional as a result of their psychological injuries,” the report states.
PFA CEO Scott Weber and President Mark Carroll will address the Parliamentary Enquiry next week about the mental resilience and mental well-being of police and to make sure more is done to “protect the protectors”. Speaking to Region Media, Mr Weber said the mental health of first responders is about prevention as much as it is about providing services and responses to trauma.
“There is a definite stigma about first responders asking for help. When you are a protector of the community and when you put your life on the line, there is a stigma about putting your hand up,” Mr Weber said.
“That is slowly being broken down but more needs to be done about that. When police officers do suffer trauma, more needs to be done about awareness and looking for those warning signs.
“Following Wednesday, we want more to be done to protect the protectors and making sure that we build up, not only services and responses to mental illness in policing, but also resilience and stopping the issues before it starts.
“It starts with education and awareness and getting rid of the stigma.”
Read the AFPA’s Senate Inquiry into the Mental Health of First Responders here.