Experts say 60 officers commit suicide annually

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021 22:11 |
Senior police officers attend training on mental health in a programme held in Nairobi, yesterday. Photo/PD/BENARD ORWONGO

George Kebaso @Morarak

About 60 police officers commit suicide annually due to social, financial and workplace pressures, mental health experts have said.

Senior officers who testified during a mental health awareness training workshop yesterday in Nairobi, said most of the deaths occurred as a result of unmet expectations occasioned by unhealthy competition among members of the service; domestic squabbles and failure to plan among other causes.

Survey was yesterday released by Dr Sylvia Kemunto, a mental health expert with the Chiromo Hospital Group.

Nyeri County police boss Japheth Koome, said some officers decide to end their lives once they fail to meet a certain obligation.

A recent survey supporting this data shows 90 per cent of police officers are experiencing challenges related with alcoholism with 50 per cent requiring psychosocial support to come out of drunkenness.

The 2018 joint survey by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime  and National Police Service (NPS) conducted among members of the service established that about 61 per cent of the officers were regular consumers of alcohol.

Enhanced efforts

“This trend is worrying, and expected to worsen in the coming days. It thus, calls for enhanced efforts to sensitise members of the service on how to manage Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other expectations while in and out of duty,” Dr John Kibosia, a medical consultant with the NPS cautioned.

Speaking to journalists at the Chiromo Hospital Group mental awareness training for regional police commanders and formation officers, Kibosia said some police officers use alcohol as a way to cope with the daily stress of their job, or as a way to self-medicate for depression, anxiety or PTSD, but cautioned this is likely to spike.

Asked why police officers are among the heaviest consumers of alcohol in the country, he said others might have alcohol conditions stemming from genetics or the environment they grew up in, and worsened when predisposed while in the course of their duty.

“Alcoholism can be triggered by the stressful and often grim situations they face on the job,” he added.

Survey further shows 9 out of 10 officers interviwed met the criteria for excess alcohol consumption.

“About 42 per cent are at risk of alcohol abuse, while 35 per cent form another group who are likely to experience alcohol use disorders,” the survey.

About 4 per cent of the officers met the diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder, and worryingly the average age of officers having alcohol debut was found to be 22 years old.

“However, it is important to note that frontline officers for instance those who respond fast to distress calls are exposed to PTSD,” said Dr Frank Njenga, chairman of the Chiromo Hospital Group.

He said the training – which is to be upscale to the regions – is aimed at helping officers cope with the hard situations they face daily.

In January during Phase one of the programme, 18 counselors were trained and dispatched to counties.

Yesterday, 42 senior police officers were trained in Phase two of the ongoing sensitisation programme.

Dr Vincent Makokha, the director in-charge of Chaplaincy and counseling at the NPS said the training of senior police officers is meant to equip all unit commanders assist junior officers in handling situations of trauma.

Already, he said 51 cases of police officers needing psychosocial support have been referred to the hospital for treatment.

Researchers believe the occurrence of alcohol among people in law enforcement is double what’s seen among the general population, and the tendency to develop an alcohol abuse problem tends to go up the longer someone works in law enforcement.

For example, a survey looked at officers in their first year, and none of the surveyed individuals had an alcohol problem, but by their second year it went up to 27 per cent, and 36 per cent by their fourth year.

Alcoholism with police officers is not the only problem that occurs at higher rates than the general population. 

Law enforcement professionals tend to have higher suicide and divorce rates as well, and both of these situations are associated with alcoholism.

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