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Date: 21 Jun 2012
Title: Depression, attempted suicide among police worrying
Pretoria - The number of police officers suffering from depression and those attempting suicide is worrying, says Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa.
Speaking at the opening of the POLMED (the South African Police Service Medical Scheme) building in Pretoria on Thursday, the minister said that based on claims to the scheme, it was found that 10 636 members were suffering from depression.
He added that 2 763 members were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"What is further worrying is the number of attempted suicides by SAPS members. Statistics indicated that during 2010, there were 84 attempted suicides. However, we are encouraged as there has been a steady decline during 2011 and the beginning of 2012," Mthethwa said.
The figures were a wake-up call for action to be taken and to ensure the "downward management of these trends".
POLMED analysis indicated that there were three specific psychiatric conditions - depression, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder - that in all likelihood had their origins in the stressful working environment of SAPS officers.
It was society's responsibility to support police officers, Mthethwa added, noting POLMED's extensive psychiatric benefits to members through various sets of disease management programmes.
However, the uptake and utilisation of the available psychiatric benefits were well below optimal levels.
There was a perception that going for counselling was considered "sissy or weak". This misconception needed to be dispelled because of the negative impact it had on officers.
Mthethwa called on police unions to play a bigger role in encouraging their members to enrol in such programmes.
He noted that SAPS, through its Employee Health and Wellness Services, provided support to all its members.
The issue of capacitating these units - whether in the area of resources, personnel or finances - needed to be addressed.
"There are 515 service providers (psychologists, social workers and chaplains) providing debriefing services to active SAPS members. However, if one considers the fact that there are over 160 000 active SAPS members, the reality is that the available 515 providers are insufficient to reach all SAPS members that require help."
With this in mind, Mthethwa said he had asked National Police Commissioner General Riah Phiyega to make it one of her immediate priorities to capacitate these units.
Mthethwa also addressed the issue of overweight police officers, saying they needed to set a good example when it came to fitness.
"SAPS management, in particular station commanders, must prioritise training and fitness of officers by putting in place at stations various intervention programmes aimed at addressing obesity and potential health problems. There is no unfit police officer who can chase and arrest criminals," he added.
With regards to the POLMED building, Mthethwa said it should represent a new hope, new beginning and have significance in that it contributes to the wellbeing of the men and women in blue.
"The magnificent structure ... must not be seen as the property of the Board of Trustees or the management of police - it belongs to the police officers. It must become a beacon of hope to those who, in the cause of their commitment to fight crime, often experience stressful conditions," he added. - BuaNews