Counselling cases drop for police

The number of police employees referred for trauma counselling across the country dropped off steeply the year after Christchurch's February 22 earthquake.

The quake that killed 182 people in the city in 2011 is attributed to a sharp rise in police seeking counselling or psychological assistance that year.

Almost 1000 police staff accessed help nationwide in 2011, as officers responded from across the country's 12 policing districts, compared to 557 the year before.

In Canterbury, the number of people seeking help rose from 68 in 2010 to 233 in 2011. It also spiked in the Bay of Plenty, rising from 94 to 143.

NZ Police figures, provided under the Official Information Act, show referrals dropped to pre-quake levels in 2012 and last year.

NZ Police wellness and safety manager Stu Duncan said counselling referrals were offered to staff involved in traumatic incidents such as fatal road crashes and natural disasters.

While initial referrals to the service were mandatory, in most cases employees could "choose to opt out if they do not wish to participate", Duncan said.

A one-on-one meeting with a psychologist was non-negotiable under NZ Police's trauma policy in a few instances, he said. These included the death of a colleague or member of the public in the course of duty, discharge of a lethal weapon or taser, and a vehicle accident resulting in serious injury or death.

"Employees involved in these critical incidents must be referred through the district welfare officer to a psychologist for a one-on-one assessment or debrief before [returning] to duties," Duncan said.

"[NZ Police] also provides regular three-monthly welfare checks for staff who work in high-risk areas such as child protection and adult sexual assault."

Staff can access help for non work-related problems such as personal and relationship issues through EAP Services - one of the country's longest-running employee assistance providers.

EAP Services professional services manager Greg Ford, a former police psychologist, helped implement NZ Police's trauma policy in the 1990s.

"There was quite a bit of resistance from police officers who did not see the need [for it], but over time that has changed quite a bit," Ford said. EAP Services' work was complementary to NZ Police's trauma counselling referral service because staff "not picked up by the trauma policy" might end up struggling a year or so down the track, he said.


Employees accessing trauma counselling:


2009 723

2010 557

2011 995

2012 526

2013 580


2009 82

2010 68

2011 233

2012 61

2013 110

Source: NZ Police

The Press