Jordan Bond is a reporter for NZME's Local Network.

Thousands of police receive counselling

Police staff have requested trauma counselling around 3700 times in the last five years. Photo/FILE
Police staff have requested trauma counselling around 3700 times in the last five years. Photo/FILE

More than 3700 police staff have asked for work-related trauma counselling in the last five years - with a senior association figure saying the culture towards seeking help is changing.

Between January 2011 and April this year, 3718 staff attended counselling or received psychological support to manage the effects of traumatic experiences.

Last year, the country's 9182 constabulary staff and 3245 other staff requested counselling 726 times - slighty above the annual average for the five-year period.

Police Association vice president Luke Shadbolt said counselling had become increasingly accessible since the mid-2000s, and staff had a growing awareness of the need for psychological support.

"It's an improving attitude. [Before the mid-2000s] no one ever went to see a counsellor or get independent psychological advice regardless of the number of incidents they were involved in," Mr Shadbolt said.

"It's a good, positive step - looking after the emotional health and psychological welfare of police staff."

Meanwhile, a recent survey found only half of police staff thought the organisation cared about employees' wellbeing.

The annual Police Workplace Survey report released last week found 51 per cent of police employees agreed with the statement: "New Zealand Police cares about the wellbeing of its staff". Forty-four per cent agreed the level of work-related stress they experienced was acceptable.

The counselling figures showed significant differences by district. Bay of Plenty police, which had 782 staff, requested counselling 636 times since 2011, an average of 0.81 requests per employee.

However, the 1254 Counties Manukau staff requested counselling just 181 times in the same period - averaging at 0.14 requests per employee in the last five years.

The 3093 Auckland-wide staff requested counselling 526 times since 2011 - 0.17 requests per employee.

All police staff could request trauma counselling. Certain employee divisions deemed higher risk - for example photographers, serious crash unit and child protection teams - were required to see a psychologist every three months.

Other counselling was available for family matters or a work relationship problem.

Mr Shadbolt said officers in urban and rural areas experienced different types of cases. He said many rural areas have high rates of family violence, gang activity and road accidents, which could influence counselling requests.

"Those are all incidents where you're dealing with other people's emotions on a very regular basis, and dealing with them in a very raw state ... You try to stay impersonal and try not to get emotionally involved, but over a period of time you can't help [it] - those kinds of things build up."

Mr Shadbolt said mental harm was not only caused by significant, traumatic incidents, but by everyday exposure to smaller events.

"There is a significant cumulative effect of attending what appear to be day-to-day incidents that police always deal with, but in reality they all take a little bit of an emotional and psychological toll on you," he said.

"We talk about the emotional bucket which fills up over time with little drips, and eventually it will overflow.

"We actually see that happen quite a bit."

He said counselling was often mandatory for officers involved in particularly critical events, such as the Christchurch earthquake, but was available to officers by request at any time.

March 2011 - the month after the Christchurch earthquake - had an 1100 per cent increase in trauma requests from February, with 426 requests up from 37 the month before. Other than April 2011, only one other month broke 100 requests.

Police wellness and safety manager Marty Fox said the trauma policy was available to all police employees, and was "a support system [for]... the psychological risks associated with policing generally".

Mr Fox said psychologists helped "minimise post-incident reactions and risk of developing ongoing psycho-social harm" but the support was not a replacement for good management, supervisory practices or personal coping skills.

- NZME.

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