I’ve decided to hit the keyboard after spending some quality time sharing research, practice and learning with colleagues from across the globe. Enthusiastic and committed academics, leaders, charities and clinicians from the UK, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and the United States all came together to raise the bar. In this blog I’ll set out where I think we are in the UK at the moment, what we need to do more of and just as importantly what we need to do less of.
One decision I’m glad we made…
5 years ago we set out to prioritise the evidence base and placed this at the centre of our work, resulting in the Blue Light self assessment which every one of the 43 home office forces (and many other law enforcement and blue light services such as the NCA, Fire Service, BTP, CNC) are working their way through. Why is this so important? Because too often people with a single issue believe they have the silver bullet for wellbeing and sometimes they have a vested interest to be blunt.
There is no silver bullet, it’s not that simple.
I’ve witnessed providers of services elbowing their way in for limited funding without a shred of robust evaluation to back their offer up. We have limited funds and must try our best to invest in the interventions we can prove add value. Everything else is window dressing. Also, some leaders are convinced that they simply need to talk about how much they value their people’s wellbeing and somehow things will miraculously improve. Hollow rhetoric that isn’t backed up with action which people see and feel in their workplace is a spectacular own goal and another good reason why we must actively listen to those nearest the work before we step onto our soapboxes. Cut out the big speeches and start listening before thinking you know what’s going on.
Dr Edmund Lau from Hong Kong Police is a high quality clinician who understands that operational leaders must work hand in hand with his profession in the best interests of the people. This is a great message for anyone who feels the wellbeing agenda is the sole responsibility of one or the other. My experience of the crisis response highlights this well. Lots of effort when the big jobs happen (which is good) but ultimately all of us have to feel supported long into the future, sometimes forever. Ask anyone who has been passed from one line manager to another whilst trying to recover from trauma and they’ll back this point up. I’ve seen great people walk out of the door because of this. I have absolutely no time for turf war when it comes to wellbeing. If I see it I call it out and insist people resolve whatever ego trip they’re struggling with or move on. Wellbeing is about selflessness not professional egos getting in the way.
Common across all of our colleagues is the desire to support every individual to build their own resilience from recruitment to retirement and beyond. We all feel that investment in pre-join screening, training inputs and then regular ‘check-ups from the neck-up’ are essential and we have a long way to go before we see the same level of attention going into psychological health and safety as we do into physical.
However, at the end of the day it’s up to the individual to invest in their own mental health just like it’s up to them to invest in their physical health.
The organisation can only do so much and so this is the contract we must make. I’ll work my socks off and up my game, invest in the time and funding necessary and never stop raising the bar……..likewise we need people to start with self compassion.
Many colleagues spoke about the cultural stigma which is still alive and kicking within police and blue light communities. It’ll change over time and I see it changing very fast in the UK thanks to role models like John Sutherland and many others who have shown the courage to share their experiences. Personally I believe we need to re-design some of the ways we work to shift culture and regular debriefs, peer groups and embedding wellbeing into leadership development, promotion and the like are all opportunities so long as they are connected up.
In the UK we have the following strengths at this point in the journey:
- A solid plan based upon the only sector specific self assessment out there (to my knowledge!)
- National funding that will enable us to accelerate our efforts in the short term
- A real movement of determined and committed frontline professionals who are starting to be listened to and empowered to set the agenda – not the bosses
In the UK we have more to do in the following areas:
- We need to start looking at what Canada and the US are doing to legislate for blue light workers psychological health they’re miles ahead of us
- We need to look at significant long term funding to enable us to build expertise and specialist support for the future
- We must get out and engage directly with frontline in big numbers to convince them we are serious and we actually care