Editor, IFSEC Global

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James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Global, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
September 10, 2022

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Mental health

Mental health and security officers: “Support is improving, but there is much to do”

On World Suicide Prevention Day 2022, IFSEC Global speaks to Mike Hurst, Board Director of IFPO UK (International Foundation for Protection Officers), about the mental health challenges that many security professionals face, and what the wider industry can do to support those suffering.  

IFSEC Global (IG): Firstly, what are the challenges of mental health in the security industry? How large is the problem, and why do you think this is?

Mike Hurst, Board Director of IFPO UK

Mike Hurst (MH): Security Officers are on the frontline, protecting people and organisations every day. As a result, they have to deal with a vast range of situations and regularly face threats and abuse aimed at the organisations they are protecting. These physical and verbal threats often have a detrimental effect on their wellbeing.

Additionally, officers are often first responders when dealing with individuals who are suffering from mental health problems. I have known of many instances where officers have had to drag people from rail tracks and from car park roofs, when they were intent on ending their own lives.

Much has been spoken and written about the perception of security as a profession and there has been some action to try and improve this.

IG: Do you think awareness of mental health in security has evolved in recent years? Or is there still an issue with acceptance that needs to be overcome before we can start to tackle the problem?

MH: Awareness has certainly improved. This is in part because of a general raise in awareness in society to issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.  Also, it is good to see that many individuals have been brave enough to share their own stories of mental health problems and how they are overcoming them.

Acceptance is still an issue though. There is still not enough awareness that we need to react to mental health conditions in the same way that we react to problems regarding physical health and sufficiently support those that are suffering.

IG: What support is out there for security professionals? How can they reach out to speak about their mental health?

MH: Support is improving, but there is much to do.  Some organisations offer employee assistance programmes, which can be good, but can suffer from a lack of anonymity.

Mental Health First Aid training is also available, although this is in some ways a misnomer as it is not the same as ‘normal’ first aid – for instance CPR, dealing with a stab wound, or putting someone in a recovery position.

There are a number of organisations offering training and support. For example, at IFPO we have developed several mental health awareness programmes in collaboration with our partners, and have a Mental Health and Wellbeing page on our website. ASIS International now also has a Mental Health and Wellness Working Group in their online Community, ASIS Connects. I am actually speaking on this very subject at the GSX show in Atlanta in September.

I am involved with a new industry initiative, Security Minds Matter, which is supported by The SIA, and will be delivering tangible results over the next year or so. So, watch this space!

IG: What can security companies do to support their employees? And what can colleagues do to support each other, and their managers?

MH: The vast majority of us are not clinically trained so we do need to be a little careful in what advice we offer. Just listening to colleagues and treating them as people and not symptoms is a good first step. The message that ‘it’s OK to not be OK’ is an important one.

Ask people twice, if they are ‘OK’, it is too easy to take a quick “yes, I’m fine” as the definitive answer. Try to manage empathically. I realise this is easier said than done sometimes, especially in a sector where the pressures to meet deadlines and margins is so great, but it is really important.

And finally, the general security message of ‘See Something, Say Something’ is not a bad one. If you think someone is suffering, try to do something.

 

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