Live well, think better: U.S. police behavioural expert Kevin Gilmartin addresses Bendigo members

INSIGHTS: U.S. behavioural scientist and former police officer Dr Kevin Gilmartin prepares to address about 300 central Victorian police officers in Bendigo.
INSIGHTS: U.S. behavioural scientist and former police officer Dr Kevin Gilmartin prepares to address about 300 central Victorian police officers in Bendigo.

SLEEP, exercise and relaxation – three vital components of mental health, highlighted during a presentation to police in Bendigo.

About 300 Victoria Police members from throughout the region attended the four-hour masterclass, featuring U.S. behavioural scientist and former police officer Dr Kevin Gilmartin.

“We want to arm our members with the advice and practices that can best help them cope physically and psychologically before the job gets on top of them,” Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt said.

“From the feedback we’ve received, these presentations by Dr Gilmartin provide a very valuable platform for achieving that.”

It was the expert’s third visit to Victoria in as many years.

Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt with Victoria Police members.

Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt with Victoria Police members.

The association has arranged for Dr Gilmartin to present to almost 4000 of its members.

“For too long, the mental health needs of law enforcement have been put on the backburner,” Dr Gilmartin said.

“We really need to make this a high priority.”

Victoria Police last month launched its three-year Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy and Action Plan.

The strategy followed an independent review of the organisation’s handling of mental health.

Work to action the review’s 39 recommendations is either underway or complete, including the expansion of Police Psychology Unit staffing.

The state government has invested more than $2.5 million in mental health supports for police in the past two financial years.

The suggestions Dr Gilmartin raised were as physiological as they were psychological.

“We have to show law enforcement officers what the biological aspects of their job are,” he said.

“We have to have police officers maintaining healthy sleep patterns.”

About 83 per cent of police officers don’t receive adequate sleep, according to the expert.

Outcomes can include poor judgement, delayed reactions, and increased aggression.

“By just enhancing sleep, we not only increase the level of law enforcement service, we reduce the risk of PTSD and injuries,” Dr Gilmartin said. 

“Overall, we have to have officers exercising on duty.”

He believed police officers should be compensated to spend at least 30 minutes of every shift exercising.

“We know from research that about 20 minutes of exercise each day for a police officer reduces depression as effectively as if the officer were placed on medication,” Dr Gilmartin said.

“It also reduces anxiety… So something as simple as a gymnasium radically increases the resilience of our law enforcement personnel”.