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Up to date NEWS on Mindfulness

THE GUARDIAN (14th June 2016)

What can mindfulness teach the police force?

In the face of some scepticism Greater Manchester police force is offering mindfulness sessions to staff to try to stem growing levels of anxiety and depression

Stress, anxiety and depression are a major problem for all UK police forces. The number of police officers and police staff taking time off for psychological reasons went up 35% from 4,544 in 2010 to 6,129 in 2015,figures released to the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act show. It is now the main reason for long-term absence.

Greater Manchester police’s sickness levels escalated by 20% from 2013-2014 to 2014-15. The equivalent of an entire GMP division (just over 460 staff, on average) is lost to sickness each day, at a cost of more than £17m per year (based on the average salary of a police constable). Anxiety and stress accounts for 28% of all sickness.

But mindfulness for stoic coppers? Chief superintendent Zoe Sheard is the wellbeing lead for GMP. She answers an adamant “yes”. “My view is that mental health is as important to a police officer as physical health.” she says. “We want them to go out and deal with conflict, but those same people will also have to deal with victims too – with compassion and often in the same incident. Mindfulnessis about keeping them fit for each role. There’s nothing mystical in this – it’s just practical.”

Growing evidence indicates that the integrative, mind-body based approach developed in the 1970s by Jon Kabat Zinn helps people to manage their thoughts and feelings. It is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence as a preventive practice for people with recurrent depression.

Even the US Marines have experimented with the technique to build resilience. Astudy in the American Journal of Psychiatry (2014) found that the heart and breathing rates of mindful Marines returned to normal faster than those of the control group members after exposure to stress.

GMP had carried out a number of surveys over the past three years and identified mental health as a major problem. Sheard presented mindfulness to her senior colleagues as a way of maintaining staff health. Despite some raised eyebrows, around 100 police volunteers received an introduction to mindfulness, and of these 41 decided to try a four-week intensive course one day a week. A further 13 (including Sim) were trained to teach the practice to others.

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