This information is for anyone who wants to support someone in the police service, whether you’re a colleague, friend, family member or partner.
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Members of the police force deal with a lot in their roles. Supporting distressed members of the public, working unusual shift patterns, and being in high pressure situations can have a big impact on their mental health. And these pressures have been made even harder since the pandemic.
Having support from the people around us can make a huge difference when we’re struggling with our mental health. You might have a friend, family member or partner in the police. You might be in the service yourself. But you might be unsure of the best way to support your colleague or loved one.
This information has some ideas on how to support someone in the police service with their mental health. There’s also information on what to do if you think it’s an emergency, and how to look after yourself, too.
If you know someone has been unwell, don't be afraid to ask how they are. They might want to talk about it, or they might not. But just letting them know they don't have to avoid the issue with you is important. Spending time with the person lets them know you care, and can help you understand what they're going through.
Everyone will want support at different times and in different ways, so ask how you can help. And depending on your relationship with the person, there are different things you could do. For example:
“If you are a leader in the police force, take time to get to know your staff, ask them in your one to ones how they manage their own mental health and if you can support them.” – Angela, chief inspector
Phrases like 'cheer up', 'I'm sure it'll pass' and 'pull yourself together' don't help. Try to be non-judgemental and listen.
Having a mental health problem is just one aspect of the person’s life. Most people don't want to be defined by their mental health problem, so keep talking about the things you've always talked about together. If you work with the person, try to involve them in conversations at work like you usually would.
A mental health problem can damage someone’s self-esteem. Showing trust and respect with the person can help to rebuild and maintain that sense of self-esteem. Knowing your support is having a positive impact can help you to cope, too.
“I've always been open with my colleagues and friends about what I'm facing and I draw strength from the support of others.” – Sally, retired borough commander
Our 2021 research showed us that emergency responders were more likely to seek advice about their mental health from friends and family, over any other avenue of support. So you can play an important part in helping them to get the support they need.
If your friend, family member or colleague lets you know that they’re ready to seek help for their mental health problem, here are some things you can do to support them:
“I have a tendency to withdrawn when I feel stressed or anxious. The important thing that helps me is reaching out to my family and friends and just telling them how I am feeling.” – Mairead, Merseyside Police
If you feel that someone you care about is clearly struggling but can't or won't reach out for help, and won't accept any help you offer, it's understandable to feel frustrated, distressed and powerless. But it's important to accept that they’re an individual, and there are always limits to what you can do to support someone else.
There may be times when the person needs help more urgently, such as if they:
Supporting someone else can be challenging. Making sure that you look after your own wellbeing can mean that you have the energy, time and distance to help someone else.
For more ideas about how to keep yourself well, see our pages on:
If you’re in the police service, you might find it helpful to read the tailored information for emergency service staff on Blue Light Together.
This information was published in May 2022. We will revise it in 2025.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.