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By Jarryd Westerdale

Digital Journalist

Two police suicides in two days spark concerns: Here’s what police are doing to help officers

The topic of depression and anxiety leading to tragedy is a constant struggle but police are fighting the stigma

The South African Police Service (SAPS) has urged its members to seek assistance if they are dealing with mental health issues.

Two officers from the North West recently took their own lives, prompting a reminder of the psychological pressures faced by police.

A 58-year-old Warrant Officer stationed with Mahikeng Public Order Police is alleged to have shot his wife, before turning the gun on himself in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The following day, a 50-year-old member of North West’s Tactical Response Team allegedly killed himself on New Machavie Road. No foul play is being suspected in the Lieutenant Colonel’s death, confirmed North West police.

Psychological support for officers

National police spokesperson Brigadier Athlende Mathe detailed the options available to officers struggling with depression or anxiety.

The police have a dedicated unit that provides support to officers and their immediate families. The unit is staffed by roughly 600 registered psychologists, social workers, chaplains and nurses, nationwide.

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Labelled Employee Health and Wellness (EHW), it provides individual counselling, therapeutic services and debriefing services, as well as critical incidents stress debriefing.

“Our members do not exist in isolation but are part of a bigger system which influences their behaviour and well-being.  [We have] one of the best EHW services within government that most organizations benchmark with,” stated Brigadier Mathe.

“The speciality found in SAPS is vast and varied which ensures that members receive the best treatment,” she added.

Breaking the mental health stigma

Policing has traditionally been a masculine space that left little room to show weakness or vulnerability.

Mathe elaborated, saying, “There is the general perception within the country that tigers don’t cry. As an organization, we also see some of those perceptions that the members have internalized from the communities from which they come.”

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The Brigadier said more officers were using the EHW but added that they were self-referring.

“This shows that members have now personalised their own healing and do not wait for the commander to refer them for treatment – which is a huge step.”

Ongoing efforts to solidify thin blue line

To encourage officers to open up, police have intensified awareness campaigns through internal media communication platforms.

Additionally, morning and evening parades are designed to promote camaraderie and stations host social support evenings.

Mathe acknowledged the uphill battle ahead.

SAPS members exist within the broader South African system and have been told that men who acknowledge their pain and seek psychological support are weak.” SAPS is still dealing with that stigma.”