Police Association of Victoria proposes provisional approval model for mental health injury claims

Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt.
Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt.

THE Police Association of Victoria is seeking to expedite help available to members who sustain a mental health injury. 

Its efforts come after two police officers last month took their own lives, one of whom was based in regional Victoria.

Association secretary Wayne Gatt said it was important members got help the second they put their hands up and said it was needed. 

“What we’re hoping to achieve is a system of provisional approval,” he said.

The proposal would see members provided with support and treatment for a limited period of time, before being called on to establish whether or not the injury was related to policing.

Under the existing system, members are required to prove their injury is work-related during the initial stages of the process.

“It doesn’t encourage help-seeking behaviour,” Mr Gatt said.

He said the nature of policing made it likely mental health injuries were related, directly or indirectly, to work.

Police officers are four to six times more likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder than a member of the general public, the association secretary said.

Delays in assistance could affect the member’s capacity to return to active duty.

“With proper support, early intervention and appropriate assistance time people can return to work at full capacity,” Mr Gatt said. 

“It’s not a career-ending injury… we owe them that much.”

The police association is in dialogue with the state government about the proposal.

U.S. behavioural scientist and former police officer Dr Kevin Gilmartin addresses about 300 police members in Bendigo.

U.S. behavioural scientist and former police officer Dr Kevin Gilmartin addresses about 300 police members in Bendigo.

The impact of policing on the mental health of Victoria Police members was highlighted at an event in Bendigo on Friday. 

About 300 police officers from the western district attended a four-hour masterclass with U.S. behavioural scientist and former police officer Dr Kevin Gilmartin, who stressed the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

He suggested police officers be compensated to spend at least 30 minutes of every shift exercising, and highlighted the perils of inadequate sleep. 

Bendigo Sergeant Damian Keegan said experience had taught him two important lessons about maintaining and building mental health and resilience.

The first was to know your limits, to acknowledge when you’ve reached them, and to ask for help.

The second was for the organisation to respect when members had met their limits, and to support its employees. 

“It’s okay to have bad days, but if you’re having these bad days to seek out and speak to someone,” Sergeant Keegan said.

He said it was vital to take time to relax and think about something other than work.

“You’re dealing with emotional situations. You’re also trying to alleviate stress for the victims of crime,” the sergeant said.

He said the mental rigors of police work could further compound stress.

“Your mind is in that hyperactive state – we’ve got to be alert all the time,” Sergeant Keegan said.

He said society had become more accepting and aware of mental health issues in the more than 20 years since he joined the police force.

“I still believe we’ve got a long way to go,” the sergeant said. 

Sunday marked the start of Mental Health Week – an initiative aimed at engaging and educating people about mental health.

If you or someone you know is in need of help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or online here.

More to come.