Improving mental health and wellbeing in the Queensland Police Service

Dr Shahina Braganza, oneED, Queensland Health

Although in its early stages of implementation, the Queensland Police Service (QPS) mental health and wellbeing framework recognises the importance of supporting employees and building their capability to understand, and manage their own mental health and the mental health of those around them.

We took time to chat with the QPS to find out more…

What was the need you were addressing?

Police are not only faced with the normal stressors that effect the wider population but are also exposed to traumatic stress and critical incidents which can place them at a greater risk of adverse mental health outcomes. 

Providing comprehensive education programs is an important strategy that supports mental health as employees progress through their career life cycle.

As a large organisation with employees located across a wide geographical area, we were aware training to support mental health was occurring however, there were challenges with consistency, capturing all employees and having programs that built on existing knowledge and skills in a structured way.  

A Queensland Audit Office audit looked at whether we were effective in preventing mental illness and monitoring and managing the mental health of our employees – looking at sworn and unsworn employees from recruitment to retirement or resignation.

One of the audit recommendations related specifically to improvement in how we design, coordinate, deliver and record its mental health training. Developing an overarching mental health training framework to guide how we increased not only knowledge, but also the skills required for a mentally healthy workforce, was the result.

Although we had traditionally focused on welfare with respect to critical incidences, this framework encompasses a more holistic approach to:

  • expand the knowledge and skills of all employees in managing mental health in every aspect of their lives – both at work and personally
  • focus on building strengths and a thriving culture as well as illness reduction
  • view mental health of employees as a shared responsibility involving both the individual and organisation
  • acknowledge the important role that leadership play in addressing the stigma, promoting a mentally healthy workplace, and supporting individuals through the challenges inherent in the role
  • ensure that training is embedded throughout operational programs to enable learnings to be reinforced and applied in real scenarios
  • use a variety of educational platforms to increase reach.

We also identified an opportunity to address some of the cultural issues around stigma associated with mental health and promote the important roles and responsibilities of leaders in proactively managing mental health and supporting employees to seek help early.

How did you develop the framework?

Initially, it was important to understand what was already being delivered and if we were meeting the needs of our people.

We looked at what other police jurisdictions and emergency services were doing in this space, engaged with the Australian Defence Force, Phoenix Australia and Beyond Blue and conducted a literature review to better understand best practice in the field. This allowed us to understand the gaps and guide learning outcomes at various career stages.

Internally we engaged a range of stakeholders to ensure the new mental health training would be well received and could be embedded into our existing training products.

It was important that mental health was not a standalone topic but would be incorporated into standard operational training requirements.

With the introduction of the Our People Matter strategy, pillars like mental health become an integrated focus.

What makes it work so well?

The key components of the framework promote a mentally healthy workplace culture as well as positive self-care.

The framework uses a multi-tiered approach and looks at what can be done at each level of the organisation to support a mentally healthy workplace. From how senior leaders can influence, drive and support a mentally healthy workplace, to operationally providing skills and confidence to middle level management on understanding the challenges and helping staff to navigate difficult periods through to resilience and psychological first aid programs.

Although there is a focus on raising awareness and improving mental health literacy, there is also an opportunity to build skills – by providing individuals tools to increase their resilience and develop better coping strategies.

The use of storytelling is also beneficial, particularly within this industry. 

We developed powerful videos showcasing officers’ stories of resilience and lived experience. Rather than just looking at mental health on its own, we also looked at and shared stories of the challenges some employees have been through and highlighted some of the coping strategies they used to manage their mental health.

The stories focused on getting through challenges and are told through a lens of strength-based coping; using the message of strength and how to cope. Our aim was to focus on mental health, not just illness.

We had several people across the state in a variety of roles put their hand up to share their story.

We also wanted to find different ways to educate our workforce through using different platforms. We developed a web page resource called ‘Gut Feeling’ that highlights a holistic approach to mental health and wellbeing. We used our internal dieticians, exercise physiologists and psychologists to develop a resource that not only provided educational information but also had practical tools on ‘how to’ make positive changes to support their wellbeing. For example, there is a sample eating plan with recipes based on the well-researched Modimed diet and exercise programs to promote emotional wellbeing based on individuals’ current activity level.

What do your people think?

The framework has been well received. Mental health and resilience education sessions are continuing as a part of the Recruit Training Program. We have developed a new program for first year constables and staff members during the early stages of their career.

This program has been recently piloted as has a component of the Constable Development Program. Although we are still in the developmental phase for many of these products, we now have an overarching framework to guide development in a structured way. This means we will be able to capture most of our workforce and continually build on their skills throughout their career.

The entire framework will be evaluated and updated regularly. We don’t see this as a ‘fixed’ product but rather one that will continue to evolve.