• Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019
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Mental help for the police: The only solution to an emerging peril

  • Published at 12:36 am October 20th, 2019
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With at least three suicides by police officers so far this year, grave concerns have risen over whether the irregular work pattern of the police is taking a psychological toll Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Why our police are in need of mental healthcare?

Selim Jahangir, attached to a police outpost in Kurigram sadar upazila, wore his uniform proudly for over 12 years. But on the afternoon of August 28, he killed himself. 

With his parents, his wife, and his eight-year-old son in the house, the 35-year-old police sub-inspector (SI) went up to his bedroom and shot himself with his service revolver.

He was declared dead on arrival at the local hospital.

The domestic help told the media that there were no discernible marital conflicts in Selim’s life. With at least two other confirmed suicides by members of the police this year, grave concerns have risen over whether the irregular work pattern of the police is taking a psychological toll.

Men and women in the police force are in with the long standing stigma in society when it comes to mental health.

On June 2, SI Sudip Barua, 45, of Gowainghat police station in Sylhet, hanged himself in his quarters. Similarly, on May 7, Constable Sharmin Akter, 22, of Tangail Police Lines, hung herself in her quarters.   

Following Selim’s suicide, Kurigram Superintendent of Police (SP) Mohibul Islam Khan posted his reaction on Facbook: “Selim was supposed to sit for an exam to be a full inspector the next day. His parents came to support him for this test… We have learned that Selim was suffering from depression for a year, but his colleagues might not have known that.

“This is a reminder of the need for regular psychological counseling for our police force. It is a widely available facility in other countries.”

SP Mohibul further noted  that although instances of suicide are filed as unnatural death cases, the reasons behind them are seldom investigated.

What is behind the stress?

SP Mohibul said many police have to live away from their families, which could possibly be one of the reasons for suicides in the police force.

Dhaka Tribune reached out to several other men and women serving in the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, who agreed to speak on condition of not disclosing their identities.

An additional deputy commissioner of police said that workload, duty hours, and pressure are major issues, noting that police work is more criticized than appreciated or thanked, in comparison to other professions. Furthermore, the senior police officer identified monotonous duty, shorter periods of rest and leisure, risk in the line of duty, and lack of internal facilities as contributing factors to mental stress among the police. 

A sub-inspector said: “I have to patrol for 12 hours everyday. And then I have to investigate the cases assigned to me or help file General Diaries. Sometimes I have to forego leisure or sleep to work on the cases. 

“And if I give up a night’s sleep for duty, the pressure continues for several days, and it begins to reflect in my attitude.There are no limits on working hours for the bosses or us. And some people take drugs, even though it is a crime, but they use it to cope with the stress. They need treatment,” the SI added.

Another SP also said there are some members of the police who abuse drugs, which in their opinion, also aggravates the stress of depression.

A traffic sergeant said: “I get stressed out when citizens do not follow the rules of the road and traffic conditions fall apart. Sometimes people in high positions abuse their power, and if I ask them to abide by the law, they push back. You cannot imagine the mental stress that hassle can cause just because you are trying to do your job.”

A senior police officer said where police are posted is a major factor among junior police, constables in particular, as sub-inspectors and above can afford to keep their families close to them. But constables and naiks are cut off from their family support.

The officer also pointed out long shifts, and irregular eating and sleeping patterns, as leading factors in the poor mental health of many in the police force. The inability to find any meaning in their duties was also noted, in addition to a lack of professional and respectful interaction between senior officers and lower-ranked members of the police.

Several police constables concurred with the officer’s latter remark, saying that many officers maintain a colonial, dismissive mentality towards the service people they command. 

What can be done?

SP Mohibul suggested regular counseling programs and psychologists could be attached to police units. He also urged that there be a swift recognition of the hazards of mental stress in the occupation.

A senior police officer suggested reforming officer attitudes and the recruitment process, saying: “If we recruit more people, the shifts can be more evenly divided and it will ease the pressure on our service members.”

A police constable said they hoped for higher authorities to conduct research into what is causing the stress and to act accordingly.

The Police Staff College recently conducted a study titled “Factors influencing police personnel's behavior in professional work”. 

Contacted, Additional Deputy Inspector General Md Golam Rasul, a faculty member at the staff college, refused to disclose any information on the study as it is yet to be published.

Helal Uddin Ahmed, associate professor at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), said: “Police should be trained to cope with stress from the first day of their training. The stress levels vary, but one form of stress is not greater or worse than another. Hence, the training should also be variable.”

He also suggested that the NIMH and other concerned government bodies can help with stress relief and promote mental health welfare around the country.

Sohel Rana, assistant inspector general (AIG) (media) at police headquarters, said: “Policing is a challenging profession. Every member of the police has to go through unexpected and unusual circumstances throughout their career, which leads to a lot of stress. Stress can build up to all kinds of physical and mental problems and police training centers are providing workshops and separate sessions to learn how to cope with stress. But in order to ensure the greatest benefit, we are working to turn it into a fully-fledged module in the training regimen.”