Mental Wellbeing and Police Trauma

The recent Victoria Police Mental Health Review found that police officers experience higher levels of recurrent exposure to potentially traumatic events compared with any other industry (Ref: 10).

The cumulative impact of operational experiences over time increases the risk of psychological injury, including anxiety, depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Ref: 11). Far too many police members with PTSD or other psychological injuries must wait excessive lengths of time before their workers compensation claims are accepted (Ref: 12).

The WorkCover process is challenging and frustrating for police and PSOs. The current system of workers compensation is flawed, as it does not tailor to the needs of the policing sector. Time delays, inconsistencies and poor outcomes associated with the current system developed for physical injuries are magnified when the WorkCover system deals with members with psychological injury.

Delays in treatment elevates the risk to members developing co-morbid conditions that increase resistance to treatment, and adversely impact on return-to-work prospects.

Timeliness and consistency in the adjudication process of a mental health-related claim is essential to achieving the earliest possible recovery and return to wellbeing.

The mental health and wellbeing of our members who find themselves subject to criminal or discipline charges is also a high priority of TPAV. There is an intrinsic link between declining mental health and exorbitant time delays in the criminal and discipline process. The stress levels experienced by our members is amplified by a draconian statutory regime that permits lengthy periods of suspension without pay, compromising their family’s livelihood.

TPAV believes that the best way to overcome these challenges and to provide psychologically injured members with the best possible chance of a full recovery, is to introduce a system whereby all mental health claims are immediately and provisionally accepted and a review of the powers to suspend members without pay contained within the Victoria Police Act 2013.

Recommendations:

In order to halt the prolonged suffering of our members resulting from the current system, the Association proposes the following:

  • Introduce a provisional acceptance model for mental health WorkCover claims for Victorian Police and PSOs to ensure that they immediately receive assessment and treatment after identifying a psychological injury.
  • Establishing a network of suitable clinical locations for the assessment of members who present with psychological injury.
  • Develop a network of clinical experts who understand the policing sector and to whom members can be referred depending on the treatment plan recommended in their assessment.
  • Review the Victoria Police Act 2013 to remove suspension without pay provisions and expedite the discipline process.

 

10 Cotton, P, Hogan, N, Bull, P and M. Lynch (2016) Victoria Police Mental Health Review, Victoria Police: Docklands.
11 The Police Association of Victoria and Ambulance Victoria, Trauma doesn’t end when the shift does: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder as a Presumptive Illness for Emergency Service Workers, Submission to the Victorian Government, June 2016
12 Victorian Ombudsman (2016) Investigation into the management of complex workers compensation claims and WorkSafe oversight, Melbourne: Victorian Government, p. 13