Police mental health is being hurt just as much from lack of staff, as the trauma of terrible road crashes and violence, says the Police Association.

Its 82nd annual conference in Wellington this week is focusing on mental health problems in the force.

Association president Chris Cahill said the daily grind of struggling to do the work without proper resources was creating as big of a strain as the traumas of the job.

He said shootings, assaults or road crashes could be expected to cause the most stress, but the impact of "daily hassles" was just as bad.

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"The work overload, the job pressures, the staff shortages, the lack of support, the time pressures, the inadequate resourcing, those very managerial styles that can drive some of us nuts. The shift work and restructuring.

"Sound familiar? Sounds familiar to everyone, I'm sure.

"These 'hassles' may even be more important than the serious operational duties, which as police officers we are trained to cope with.

Police are trained to deal with violence and trauma, but struggle with a lack of resources. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Police are trained to deal with violence and trauma, but struggle with a lack of resources. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"It's not surprising that in our members' survey of 2017, 67 per cent of members identified staffing as the most important, or in the top three, most significant issues facing New Zealand Police.

"Frontline staff feel this even more acutely, with more than a quarter worried to the point they believe current levels are risking service failure."

Cahill said that resilience in the face of these pressures was not about "sucking it up or toughing it out".

"A resilient person is not necessarily the person who is able to suppress or numb themselves.

"There is an overwhelming consensus on the meaning of resilience. That it is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, workplace stresses, and other sources of stress."

Barrister Susan Hughes QC, the go-to lawyer for the association when police officers needed defending, opened the conference.

She said in her time working with the police since the early 2000s, she'd seen an escalation in what officers had to deal with.

"Now, of course, the offender will be armed. Increasingly, with higher and higher performance firearms.

"And, of course, there's likely to be someone in the area with a cell phone, recording events.

"What was a tough job 20 years ago, in many ways has got even tougher."

Hughes said the only silver lining to the increase in armed callouts was that the police had learned how better to deal with them.

But she said the biggest reason why "some officers bounce, and others struggle" came down to the support and camaraderie at work.

"Those who have supervisors who continue to show an interest do better than the abandoned," Hughes said.

She said most of the officers involved in shootings were general duties officers expecting "another day" of "keeping the peace, catching burglars, annoying people on bail".

It was up to the police organisation, not the individual, to gain resilience.

"To do otherwise is to damage people, and waste your most valuable of resources; your people."

The conference is set to continue over the next three days.