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'Abandoned to the scrap heap': Gardaí describe management attitude to their mental health issues

More than one in six rank-and-file members of An Garda Síochána may have PTSD.

Image: Leah Farrell

‘ANXIOUS’, ‘CONSTANTLY STRESSED’, ‘IGNORED’.

These are just some of the terms rank-and-file gardaí used in their answers to a wellbeing survey carried out by their representative association.

At the Garda Representative Association conference last month, interim results from the survey revealed more than one in six rank-and-file members of An Garda Síochána may have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Dr Finian Fallon, a psychotherapist and Dean of Psychology who carried out the study, told delegates at the conference that 16% of the force’s almost 12,000 frontline members may have PTSD. Overall, 27% may be what he described as “walking wounded” in terms of “distress and impairment in their lives as a result of trauma”.

Today the full wellbeing survey report was published, including hundreds of testimonials from members of the organisation. Here is just a sample of the comments in relation to mental health issues and how the organisation deals with them:

  • I have had to take two periods of extended sick leave over the past… years because of work related PTSD. While X understood my sickness, unfortunately management did not and ignored both my own cries for help and the recommendations… to a point where my mental health took a double hit both from my PTSD and management’s intransigence and delay in dealing with my situation. Due to this totally avoidable delay in acting, I feel I am now abandoned to the scrap heap.
  • No support for trauma following the witnessing of serious incidents. Can’t get out of head and nervous dealing with issues on a work and personal level. Constant anxious feeling. Welfare system present put I don’t want to be seen to use same. First time to write something like this.
  • I feel under complete stress all the time in work due to workload and constantly having to double guess myself. Always wondering and waiting to be caught out by higher authorities. This job has affected my life, family life, I’m on sleeping tablets for years which don’t help me most nights. It’s all the pressure I face in work. I never go sick but some days I physically can’t lift my head off the table with lack of sleep. The stress of this job is going to take lives. Be warned.
  • I was bullied in work several years ago at a different station to the point of being suicidal. When I finally cracked and said it, my first day back to work I got a bollocking and then directions came down that I was to see x but it never materialised, no will to follow-up on member’s welfare.
  • I am constantly stressed because of this job. I have suffered severe sleep problems especially over the last few years. The amount of changes that we are expected to keep up to date with while trying to do our daily duties is overwhelming and I am constantly battling anxiety because of this job. If I have could go back in time I definitely would have chosen a different career path.
  • I pretty much give up on the job.
  • I feel that there is a real lack of understanding of mental health issues within the organisation. I have suffered from depression and PTSD as a result of having been involved in numerous incidents where I was the first responder to fatal accidents and suicides. The job has only lately brought in counselling services. It should be mandatory to get counselling if you are the first responder to incidents involving fatal RTA and traumatic incidents.
  • Having attended numerous scenes of murders, dead bodies, fatal accidents, scenes of horrific nature, 23 years and still never been offered counselling. Peer Support options [are inadequate]. Anything you tell them will be heard back. Zero confidentiality so nobody tells anybody anything and nobody talks about traumatic scenarios.
  • Lack of any form of support after traumatic event. 24-hour phone support service is not sufficient. After a traumatic incident I developed PTSD and was told by the state that they would not pay for counselling. Medical insurance would not cover it as trauma occurred on duty. Told to pay for it out of my own pocket. Seriously affected my life and work for the best part of a decade afterwards. Wasn’t even invited to be assessed… over it.

Commenting on the publication of the report, John O’Keeffe, the GRA’s director of communications said internal operational pressures and external life demands make many members susceptible to very high stress levels.

“We have experienced the tragic loss of a number of our colleagues recently and we commiserate deeply with their families, colleagues and friends. These losses may be indicative of underlying personal challenges in the force. This survey points us towards solutions and demonstrate to members how seriously the association take these critical issues,” he said.

The GRA has demonstrated a progressive and member-focused approach in agreeing to this survey. Worldwide surveys of this type demonstrate a high level of stress and trauma among police men and women.

“With significant symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (perhaps close to a third of gardaí first responders are what Dr Fallon describes as “walking wounded” from a wellbeing perspective), the organisation of An Garda Síochána now urgently need to quantify these issues and assess how they may be dealt with.”

The Policing Authority is due to address the results of this survey with senior garda management in its private session tomorrow.

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