Protecting our protectors: Important to discuss Stress & Mental Health Issues among Police Personnel

Uniformed personnel constantly function under an unpredictable stressful and dynamic environment. Many of them are exposed to various kinds of stress due unique nature of their duties that involve being away from family for long periods, being in life-threatening combat situations and deployment in extreme weather conditions. The relatively high prevalence of anxiety, depressive behavior, substance abuse, suicides, fratricides etc. among uniformed personnel is a matter of concern. At the same time, there is a tendency to avoid discussing mental health issues openly, for fear of being stigmatized or ostracized by peers and superiors, being declared unfit for duty, overlooked for promotions or important postings etc. There is absence of specialized preventive mental health services for police personnel in India.

To deliberate further on this, Indian Institute of Public Health Gandhinagar (IIPHG) organized a National Conference on Occupational Stress & Mental Health Issues among Uniformed Personnel on 10th & 11th October 2019, on observance of Mental Health Day. The conference brought together police officers from across central and state police agencies across India, psychiatrist, psychologists and researchers in one platform. IIPHG has been working actively with Border Security Force, Gujarat Frontier HQ to create a cadre of peer counsellors who can provide psychological first aid. Following are the key take-away from the conference:

  • Structural issues such as staff strength, living conditions, working hours should be addressed. Uniformed personnel should be allowed to stay with family in certain conditions.
  • “Police wellbeing programme” implemented in Tamil Nadu State should be replicated in other states as well.
  • Peer counselling trainings by IIPHG should be conducted with other forces within Central Armed Police Force and scale up at national level.
  • There is a need to take up studies that create evidence to inform policy that ensures well-being of uniformed personnel.
  • Counselling and communication skills should be integral part of the regular training curriculum at training academy across the country.
  • Yoga and meditation need be promoted to improve mental health wellbeing.
  • There is a need to create a national repository of studies on mental health as well as mental health programmes among police personnel.

This blog post is written by Dr Somen Saha, Assistant Professor, Indian Institute of Public Health Gandhinagar. IIPHG hosted a National Conference on Occupational Stress & Mental Health on October 10-11, 2019