Police Federation Australia (PFA): Mental Health of Police Officers

The following message is from the national policing body of Australia, the Police Federation of Australia (PFA):

"Dear members,  

I know we are all devastated by the unnecessary deaths of Senior Constable Ricky Hilton (Qld), Senior Constable David Curtis (WA) and Constable Simon Darke (Tas) in the space of just two weeks. Unfortunately, these fine police officers are not alone in taking their own lives in recent years. We have lost fellow officers in the NT, Victoria and the AFP - indeed all states.  

The Police Federation of Australia extends its deepest sympathies to the heartbroken family and friends of all officers who have died in such tragic circumstances. Family, friends and indeed the police family across Australia are very much the poorer for their passing.

Those of us in policing well understand the stresses and strains of holding the thin blue line. Service to the community comes at a significant cost and can result in mental ill-health, psychological injury and, in the worst cases, suicide.

According to the recent Beyond Blue study of first responders, more than half of us see ourselves as being highly resilient. At the same time, suicidal thoughts are twice as common among first responders than among the general population and three times more of us are likely to have some sort of suicide plan.

The scourge of mental ill-health, which destroys lives, families and careers, cannot go unaddressed.

The Police Federation of Australia has taken action.

Some of you will know that, last year, the Federation sought funding assistance from the Commonwealth Government to mount a national mental health program on behalf of our members and their families. We are grateful for the Government’s support and over the past 12 months we have been working on the program which involves the production a suite of compelling, cop-specific materials.

These productions will help:

  • eradicate stigma
  • build understanding and awareness
  • outline self-help strategies and
  • point to pathways to help.

In the next few months the Federation will unveil the fruits of this work including the handbooks “Head Notes” and “A Cop in the Family”, our own song “Graduation Day” and an equally powerful tele-movie called “Dark Blue”, the likes of which has not been produced in Australia - possibly the world.

Our program tackles mental ill-health and psychological injuries in policing head-on. We recognise that police departments around Australia are also taking up the challenge. Without wishing to diminish these important efforts, the Federation’s program is unrestrained by bureaucratic niceties.

Simply, we tell it like it is: now is not the time to hold back.

We are fortunate to have been guided by some eminent psychologists and psychiatrists. Just like the rest of Australia, we need more access to more mental health professionals, dedicated facilities and services. It’s important to stress that this program will not be a miracle cure - but it will start critical conversations in critical circles.  

We all accept that policing is often a very stressful occupation, physically and psychologically. Again, it is well-known that sharing mental/emotional stresses with someone else, particularly in the early stages, is often a very effective first step on the journey back to health.

If you are suffering the effects of mental and/or emotional stress, we urge you to talk to your partner, a friend, a colleague, your GP or a health professional. We have to talk about this issue freely and openly. Silence is not an option.

One of the most important messages in the PFA program is that mental ill-health and psychological injuries can be effectively treated. They don’t have to be a life sentence - nor do they have to be a death sentence. The earlier help is sought, the earlier the recovery.

Importantly, one or two of the program elements are designed to be shared with the general public. Perhaps, for the first time, the general public will come to an understanding of the price paid by police officers and their families in the course of serving the community.

We look forward to sharing with you the work we have done in developing and implementing the first stages of our mental health program. We know you will be impressed and we know you will be moved. "


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