Large numbers of gardaí experience “trauma” at work as well as “high or very high” levels of stress, yet many believe seeking assistance from the support structures within the force will damage their careers.
New research on mental wellbeing and physical health levels among Garda sworn members and civilian staff has found there is a significant perception of “stigma” for personnel who seek help for difficulties.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said the findings showed that working for the Garda was "not a normal job with normal stresses".
“Notably respondents report perceptions of a stigma attached to seeking out mental health and emotional supports, and many believe that seeking help would have a detrimental impact on career progression,” Mr Harris said.
The Garda wanted to “create a culture where everyone feels supported and can rely on our support services in their time of need” and the findings of the new report would help in that regard.
He added a “cultural change” was required in order that “seeking help is seen for the strength that it is and not any kind of weakness”.
However, Mr Harris added that survey – conducted by Crowe consultancy – also contained positive findings, including large numbers of Garda members seeking help from the support services in the Garda when required. Furthermore, those who had sought assistance were overwhelmingly satisfied with the services.
The new Health Needs Assessment Survey Report was conducted between last October and November, with 5,200 respondents.
When the average “mental health rating” of respondents was taken, sworn Garda members had an average rating of 6.8 out of 10, while the Garda civilian staff was 7.3. The “physical health rating” was 6.4 for sworn Garda members and 7.2 for civilian workers.
On average more than 50 per cent of respondents “occasionally experience trauma at work”, with that figure as high as 63 per cent for sworn Garda members. Other findings included:
* 45 per cent experience high or very high stress levels at work.
* 70 per cent of Garda personnel feel they can speak with a supervisor about something causing them “upset”.
* 26 per cent of personnel have taken a work-related absence in the past year.
* Satisfaction rating with peer support was 73 per cent, some 65 per cent with employee assistance service and 73 per cent with 24/7 helpline.
Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, said psychological supervision and supports were last month put in place for Garda personnel working in cyber crime, protection services and specialist interviewing.
In those areas of the Garda Síochána, personnel are responsible for tasks judged as high-risk for mental health wellbeing including finding images of child sex abuse, viewing content related to terrorism or other very violent crimes and taking statements from victims subjected to the most serious crimes, including sexual offences.
The Garda's chief medical officer, Dr Oghenovo Oghuvbu, said it was clear "the culture surrounding mental wellbeing needs to progress and evolve" within the Garda.