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Dublin: 3 °C Tuesday 21 May, 2019
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Gardaí talk about their fears after being assaulted as one in six officers show symptoms of PTSD

A new study found gardaí who have suffered trauma related to their job do not feel they received adequate support from management.

MORE THAN ONE in six rank-and-file members of An Garda Síochána may have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) according to the results of a new survey.

The survey was commissioned by the Garda Representative Association (GRA) and the results were presented today at its annual delegate conference in Co Wexford.

Dr Finian Fallon, a psychotherapist and Dean of Psychology, who carried out the study, told delegates 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”.

“We know from both the testimonies we have received from members and also from international studies that these issues have a huge impact on performance of gardaí. It also has an impact on their lives in terms of their health and also their interpersonal relationships, their marriages and things like that.

“It has a wide range of impacts including on members of the public, but also on families and friends as well.”

One of the personal testimonies presented to delegates said:

I am lucky to have survived, but only for the support of my family and good colleagues on the ground, not because of any support provided by the organisation. In fact, the approach I encountered by the organisation for the years after I had summoned the courage to come forward, in itself seriously worsened my condition at great cost personally, to my family and An Garda Síochána.

‘Dust yourself off’

Speaking to reporters at the conference, Garda Lisa McEntee, who represents members in Louth, described a number of assaults she has suffered in her 16 years as a garda.

In one incident, she sustained serious scratches to her face. The woman responsible was arrested and prosecuted for it.

“I didn’t take any time off, you just pick yourself up and dust yourself off. I think it’s sort of expected of us by the public that we’re just sort of resilient and that we can keep going and we have to keep going because our numbers are so low, especially around Louth.

I know after I was assaulted, the next time I went to an incident outside a nightclub I did get nervous and started to shake a little bit, but you have to go ‘I have to pick myself up, I’ve to protect people here’.

Screenshot 2018-05-29 at 12.49.11 Garda Lisa McEntee spoke of her own experience after being assaulted on duty. Source: Michelle Hennessy/TheJournal.ie

Garda McEntee said the prevalence of assaults appears to be the same across the country, but there is less support for officers in rural areas.

I’ve had two colleagues who were badly assaulted – a girl was spun around by the hair of the head, another colleague had a gas cylinder thrown at him. But they’re 25 minutes away from assistance and that’s where the problem lies with the country.

She pointed out that a lot of harm can be done in that time.

‘No one available’

As part of his research, Dr Fallon said he had tested the counselling helpline service available for gardaí, which provides for six phone conversations with a counsellor.

“When I rang the counselling service I was told there was no one available at that time, which I kind of felt, for a professional organisation – I’m not criticising the organisation itself – in terms of a process of accessing counselling, it’s really not good enough for an organisation as large and as financially powerful of you.

“It’s very important that people get quick access to treatment especially for people with PTSD as it has implications for suicide etc.

Six sessions are not enough, it sometimes takes years to support someone with PTSD. That should be a given option within the offerings.

Fallon said these kinds of mental health issues should not be “pushed away or stigmatised, which it seems to be at the moment”.

He said he believes the level of trauma and the deficiencies in treatment of these issues may be contributing to the levels of suicide in the force. The GRA is now calling on garda management to carry out its own assessment of staff wellbeing and to review its support offerings.

A garda spokesperson said a new workplace portal page providing information in relation to self-care and mental health was launched by the force and is available to all members.

“Garda Employee Assistance Service (GEAS) is a confidential support and assistance service to members of An Garda Síochána and their families in managing and resolving work and personal difficulties in an effort to maintain their health and well-being,” they said.

“As an enhancement to the Garda Employee Assistance Service, an Independent Helpline and Counselling Service was launched by the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána in June 2016.  This service is provided by Inspire Wellbeing and is available 24/7, 365 days a year. The confidential service is available to all staff on free phone number.”

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