This information is for anyone working in the police force, whether you manage a team, help people by responding to calls, work from home or in an office, or are a uniformed police officer.
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We know the pandemic isn’t over. But parts of society are starting to return to the way they were before.
As a responder in the police force, you might notice that some things at work, or in your home life, aren’t going back to the way they were before. There might be new rules during your shift, or more jobs to respond to than before the pandemic. You might feel differently about your role to how you did previously. And for some things, you might not want them to go back to the way they were before.
This information might help you to make sense of what you’ve seen and experienced during coronavirus (covid-19). It’s not a replacement for mental health treatment and support. But it may give you some tools to help you understand how you’re feeling, and some tips on how to cope with these feelings.
We experience many different feelings every day. Feelings can help guide us in how to respond to the situations we find ourselves in. But often, we can’t give a name to every feeling we’re having, when we have it.
During the pandemic, you might have dealt with lots of things you found difficult, and not had the time to think about them properly. You might be having feelings now, as a result of something that happened a while ago. And as a member of the police force, you might feel like there’s an expectation for you to be detached from your feelings, or like you’re not encouraged to open up about how you’re feeling.
Identifying some of the feelings you’re having now might help you to understand what could have caused them. And once you know the causes, you might feel better prepared for how to deal with these feelings.
“In this line of work, we are exposed to things which are so unnatural and we normalise that, as if this is something that doesn’t bother us.” – Rhiannon, Welsh police
Recognising how you’re feeling might help you to understand why you reacted the way you did to certain situations in the past. For example, you might have had a sleepless night, and not associated it with the stressful calls you’d taken that day. Maybe you had an argument with someone you care about, without really knowing why.
Putting your feelings into words could help you to understand the emotions you’re having. There are different ways you can do this, and everyone’s preferences will be different. Here are some suggestions:
Below are some of the things members of the police force have told us they’ve been feeling throughout the pandemic. You might be experiencing some of these, and may also be having feelings which aren’t listed here.
When we say things like "this is stressful" or "I'm stressed", we might mean:
If you’re experiencing stress, you might feel:
“It can be stressful dealing with distressed people so much, and it can often feel like you're carrying the weight of everyone else's problems.” – Cassie, crime scene investigator
Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid, particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future.
Anxiety can affect:
As a member of the police force, you may develop hypervigilance. Hypervigilance is the feeling of being on constant alert to the surrounding environment. This may be useful in your line of work. But if it continues when your shift ends, it can lead to you feeling like you’re always on the lookout for potential threats or danger. This can make it harder to relax, sleep, and can contribute to feelings of anxiety.
Moral injury describes a set of feelings you might have if you’ve had to do things, or see things, which go against your values and beliefs.
During the pandemic, you might have been forced to make some difficult decisions. For example, you might have had to enforce certain coronavirus rules, like asking people not to meet in public, even though this could have felt hard to do. And if members of the public respond negatively, or without sympathy for what you’re trying to do, this can make these feelings even worse.
If you’re experiencing moral injury, you might feel:
When you’re repeatedly looking after people in distressing or difficult circumstances, this can leave you feeling physically and mentally exhausted. You can end up feeling like you don’t care about people as much as you used to. This is sometimes known as compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue might make you feel:
Going through very stressful, frightening or distressing events is sometimes called trauma. Everyone has a different reaction to trauma. You might notice the effects quickly. Or you might not notice them until a long time afterwards.
A traumatic event might make you feel:
“The role of being a police officer has had a continuous effect on my mental wellbeing. We see things that the general public don’t.” – Tim, police officer
Fatigue and burnout are more than feelings of being tired. Burnout can happen if you’re constantly under lots of pressure from work. It can make you feel:
“I arrived at work but I just couldn't connect with what was going on around me. I had been like a boiling kettle for months, with a relentless screeching noise in my head – and then, suddenly, it clicked off.”
Some people find it hard to identify how they’re feeling, especially if they’ve been through something traumatic. This is sometimes known as disassociation.
If you dissociate, you may feel disconnected from yourself and the world around you. For example, you may feel detached from your body or feel as though the world around you is unreal. Dissociation is one way the mind copes with too much stress, such as during a traumatic event.
We have more information on disassociation, including tips on how to take care of yourself when you disassociate.
Once you understand what it is you’re feeling, you can start to think about what could have caused some of these feelings. This might make you feel better prepared for how to deal with them.
Some of the things in this list might be contributing to how you’re feeling now. You might also have had experiences which aren’t included here.
“When COVID came on scene we all thought it would pass quickly. This was obviously not the case. Workloads, approaches to policing, and dealing with incidents all changed.” – Tim, police officer
See our information on bereavement.
Police Care UK has a video explaining how traumatic incidents can affect you, and some techniques you could use if you experience a traumatic incident.
“Until you experience working in the police force yourself, it can be very hard to really understand the impact of a job that deals with such emotional life events.” – Angela, chief inspector
“As my fiancé is high risk I was required to isolate away from her to protect her. My rock that had helped me through all of this wasn’t able to be there as much and this definitely had an effect on me and my mental health.” – Tim, police officer
“When the pandemic began, things changed. This had a big impact on my mental health – just not having that connection with others affected me.” – Kiwi, police officer
For many of us, the pandemic meant that things we hoped would happen, or looked forward to, suddenly felt less likely. And things we feared would happen might have felt closer to coming true. For example:
You don’t have to feel motivated all of the time, and many of us have days where we feel less motivated at work and at home. But if you feel like coronavirus has taken away some of the love and enjoyment you once had for your job, you might find these tips helpful.
We have more tips for taking care of yourself when going into work during coronavirus.
“Music is a big part of my well-being toolkit. I listen to music a lot and I know what to put on if I feel a low mood coming, depending on what has triggered it. And playing a musical instrument gives me a boost.” – Sally, retired borough commander
The NHS has more information about how to deal with change and uncertainty during coronavirus.
“It's important to be kind to yourself and to remember that life can return to normal, just don't put pressure on yourself or set yourself deadlines to recover.”
We have more information on staying mentally healthy at work, including tips on how to cope with stress.
“I use exercise as a therapy and walking my puppy; both of which have saved my life. To work in the emergency services is stressful enough without the added extra of bottling things up.” – Georgie, police officer
It’s very uncommon to feel positive all of the time, and most of us will have periods where we feel better or worse. But working during the pandemic may have left you feeling worse about yourself, your job, or society in general. The following things might help you to regain some positivity.
We don’t know what might happen in the future. At work, some things might be returning to how they were before. If you were working from home, you might be returning to the office, and seeing colleagues again. If you work on the ground, you might be spending less time enforcing coronavirus restrictions now.
And there may be some things which still feel different. You might still have strict hygiene measures in place. Your caseload might not be back to pre-pandemic levels.
You might find it helpful to have some strategies in place for how you’ll cope with the future, and any feelings of uncertainty or worry you might have. The following things might be helpful:
You may have experienced lots of big changes to your life during the pandemic. You may have lost loved ones, or missed out on important events. And when the anniversaries of these moments come around, you might find it brings up some difficult feelings.
It can be helpful to take a moment to think about the events that have had a big impact on your life. If you want to, you could plan something on the date of the event’s anniversary. You could meet up with other people who were affected. Or, you might prefer to spend some time reflecting on your own. You might find these pages helpful:
Ask your supervisor, line manager or colleagues if you can access specialist support. Some of the following things may be helpful:
If you are a police cadet you might be able to access extra support through your course provider. Our student mental health hub has more tips and resources for anyone who is studying.
We know it can be difficult to reach out for help at work, especially when so much of your job is spent helping others. It can feel like there’s a stigma in the police force, where you feel you have to put on a brave face and not admit that you’re struggling.
It’s always OK to ask for help. Reaching out could help you to get the support you need to feel better. And if you don’t feel comfortable speaking to someone at work, there are other organisations which might be able to help.
If you’re a line manager, think about how you could encourage your team members to come to you if they need to talk. You might find it helpful to read our resources on taking care of your staff. This includes information on how to support your team members, and how to create a mentally healthy workplace.
“I loved my job and that was the frustrating thing; I couldn't tell anyone because of the stigma at work. For many people, if you've got depression, anxiety or stress then you're weak, you're a "sicknote".”
“The most courageous thing you can do is ask for help and it will improve. It is a big step but a very important one to take to help yourself.” – Angela, chief inspector
“Don't let any stigma, or thoughts of being weak or selfish get in the way of getting support. It doesn't matter who you are or how strong a character you are – this can happen to anyone at any time.” – Stuart, police sergeant
This information was published in October 2021. We will revise it in 2022.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.