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Officers under increased stress

The number of police officers taking time off work for psychological reasons has gone up by more than a third in the last five years.

Statistics released under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act show that those taking long-term sick leave rose from 4,544 in 2010 to 6,129 in 2015.

The FOI was submitted by BBC Radio 5 Live and included data for staff and officers.

The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) has said it is not surprising the number has increased, given the ever-increasing stresses they face.

Che Donald, lead on mental health for PFEW, said: "The increasing pressure on police officers to do more with less is further shrinking the thin blue line.

"There have been unprecedented cuts to police officer numbers since 2010, with the force losing 17,000 officers. However, the demand placed on the police service has not decreased, with overall crime showing a recent increase of five per cent and violent crime up 27 per cent. We know that this increase in demand on serving officers is having an impact on an overstretched and overworked police service."

A total of 40 forces responded to the FOI - which showed that in 2010/11, 19,825 employees were recorded as being on long-term sick leave - defined by forces as 28 or 29 days or more - compared with 22,547 in 2014/15.

The figure is rising despite workforces shrinking.

Policing minister Mike Penning said: "Policing, by its very nature, is a stressful and demanding job and it is the responsibility of chief officers - with help from the College of Policing - to ensure that police officers and staff are supported in their work."

It was recently publicised that police officers were owed in excess of 400,000 rest days, accumulated by backfilling gaps left in the service.

Che Donald said that those rest days provided officers with necessary time off to relax, to spend valuable time with their families and loved ones, and are important for well-being.

"All these factors taken together will have an accumulative effect on the health and wellbeing of police officers, so the increase in sickness levels - including mental health and psychological issues - does not come as a surprise. We are seeing more officers needing to take time off for mental health reasons; they are often working in highly stressful, fast-moving environments along with being exposed to horrific situations which takes its toll," he said.

"This, coupled with a reduction in resources and manpower, can lead to the perfect storm. Historically, the police service has not always been open about mental health issues and people used to cover up the real reasons why they took time off sick.

"Thankfully, now, the issue is being acknowledged more openly which is a positive step in the right direction. This might also be another factor in the increased figures."