Mental health absences among police officers increased by nearly 70% in four years as officer numbers fell to the lowest since 2008, Scottish Labour has warned.
The party said the police service has been pushed to “breaking point” amid increasing pressure on numbers.
Figures obtained by the party using freedom of information legislation show that between 2018-19 and 2022-23, the number of working days lost to mental health absences soared by 67% among police officers and 165% among police staff.
In total, 59,073 police officer working days and 22,828 police staff working days were lost to mental health absences in 2022/23.
In 2018/19, 8,623 working days were lost for police staff due to mental health, compared to 22,828 in 2022/23 – however the highest number was in 2021/22, when 25,142 days were lost.
Police officers lost 35,283 working days in 2018/19, compared to the highest recorded figure in 2022/23 when 59,073 days were lost.
Officer numbers have fallen to their lowest point in 15 years, renewing concerns about stress levels.
At the end of 2023 there were 16,363 full-time equivalent (FTE) police officers in Scotland – the lowest point since the second quarter of 2008.
Scottish Labour justice spokeswoman Pauline McNeill said: “These shocking figures expose the immense pressure Police Scotland is under.
“Years of cuts to policing by the SNP have pushed services to breaking point and taken a huge toll on officers and staff.
“With police officer numbers at a 15-year low and more cuts looming, there is a real risk that stress levels will continue to rise among overstretched officers and staff.
“Across the board, lifeline services, including mental health services, are overwhelmed and too often police officers are left to bear the brunt.
“The SNP must ensure that police officers and staff have the support and fair working conditions they need so Police Scotland can keep communities safe.”
Deputy Chief Constable Alan Speirs said: “The health and welfare of our officers and staff is one of Police Scotland’s highest priorities.
“Working in policing is a job like no other and our officers and staff find themselves in situations which can be stressful, traumatic and can have a lasting impact.
“Police Scotland is determined to continue to drive improvements to support our people. We have a range of mechanisms in place to support our employees who are absent from work for any reason, including the Employee Assistance Programme and the Your Wellbeing Matters programme.
“We also work with our occupational health provider to support police officers and staff in their journey back to health and, subsequently, to work.”
Justice Secretary Angela Constance said: “It is wholly inaccurate to say we have cut police funding.
“Despite deeply challenging financial circumstances due to the UK Government settlement, we are increasing the Scottish Police Authority resource budget by 5.6% in 2024-25 – an additional £75.7m.
“The Chief Constable has confirmed that this investment will enable Police Scotland to restart recruitment next month and increase police numbers this year.
“Scotland continues to have more police officers per capita than England and Wales and our officers are the best paid at all levels.
“I also welcome the new Chief Constable’s commitment to workforce wellbeing and that police officers and staff can access a range of services to care for their psychological and physical needs through Police Scotland’s ‘Your Wellbeing Matters’ programme.”
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