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Study finds KP police suffer from psychological pressures
Officials downplay conclusions, but take steps to support police
By Syed Ansar Abbas
PESHAWAR – The war on terror has ratcheted up pressure on police in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and those officers are likely to suffer psychologically as a result, a recent study for a doctoral thesis shows.
“Law enforcement is constantly identified as one of the most stressful occupations,” said Waqar Hussain, who did the study for his doctoral thesis: “Level of Stress, Anxiety and Depression in police officers of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.” Waqar is a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology, University of Peshawar.
But the study’s results should not be taken to mean that police are unable to handle their jobs, one official says, while another calls for further study before reaching definitive conclusions.
First study of KP police stress
Research methods were designed to measure the levels of stress, anxiety and depression among KP police.
The study also aimed to assess how factors like gender, marital status, length of service, official ranks, location and the nature of duty stations affect stress levels.
A total of 315 police officers from three districts of KP were interviewed.
The study shows that female officers, married officers, officers with more years of service, officers with low ranks, and officers working in urban areas have higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress than male officers, unmarried officers, officers with fewer years of service, officers with high ranks, and officers working in rural areas.
The study suggested that a “Psychological Unit” needs to be established within the police department. The unit should include clinical psychologists who could implement programmes to prevent and respond to psychological problems among police, the study recommended.
The army offers psychological counselling and intervention to soldiers, Waqar observed in making that suggestion.
Despite all these stresses, the police force are medically eligible to continue serving because stress is not classified as a disease, Waqar said. Stress, anxiety and depression are common in everyone, but the responsibility and burden on police are higher than on civilians, Waqar said.
Still, high levels of stress are linked to emotional and medical problems, such as heart disease, cancer, and sleep disorders, which can affect officer fitness. And stress can cause anxiety and depression, affecting the officers’ motivation and their family lives – and sometimes leads to drug abuse, Waqar said.
He said anxiety and mental stress are not new, but his study in KP is the first time the level of police stress has been researched.
Waqar said his work did not examine how the stress affected the officers’ work performance and their lives. And he added the study found that the police department has realised officers face psychological problems and intends to take measures to address these problems.
Officials disagree with study’s findings
“I do not see any fear or mental disorders in police force,” Abdul Waheed, Commandant of the Police Training Centre in Hangu, said. “I appreciate the bravery of police force who wage the war against terrorism in the province despite insufficient resources.”
However, the police face stress-producing situations, he admitted. Terrorists have no qualms about threatening police officers with death, he said, and those threats sometimes extend to families.
“Sometimes the threat to their children’s lives shatter the commitment,” Waheed said, citing Swat as an area where the police force has seen high turnover because of such acts by the militants. “But despite all these threats, the policemen do not fear death and consider it Shahadat, (or martyrdom).”
Fasih ud Din, president of the Pakistan Society of Criminology and former director general of the Human Rights Directorate in the police department, however, agreed with the study’s purpose.
“There is no data about the detrimental health consequences in police due to high stress and ongoing war against terrorism,” he told Central Asia Online. “The consequences can include mental and physical illnesses, aggressive and violent behaviour, and alcohol abuse and decreased work performance.”
Fasih suggested further study, since research by and about the police is lacking.
KP takes steps to encourage police
KP has moved to tangentially reduce stress among police officers.
“The police department in the last couple of years is doing its best in the available resources to provide maximum facilities to policemen,” a spokesman for the Inspector General of Police KP, Riaz Yousafzai, told Central Asia Online. The Shaheed (martyr) Package has grown to Rs. 3m (US $33,000) from Rs. 300,000 ($3,300) for families of slain officers, Riaz said.
Bereaved families also receive free education and other benefits, he said.
“Injured police officers are given best treatment available in the country free of cost,” Riaz said, and those with psychological problems are sent on an Umra (an Islamic pilgrimage) as a form of relaxation and spiritual connection.
“The salaries have been doubled,” he said. “Providing different packages to affected police families and arrangement have been made to provide medical treatment to injured ones in the best available hospitals of the country.”
The police department is going to establish the Post Trauma Stress Development Centre soon.
The province has also increased the size of its police force, to 64,532 from 35,972 in 2002. An additional 20,000 community police are deployed in Swat and the southern districts of the province.
In order to reduce the stress on police, Fasih suggested making arrangements to help improve the safety of police officers’ children and families.
He also suggested incorporating a stress management course in police training.
Riaz, however, said, “The successful operations against militants prove the fact that the police force is not under pressure and defensive.”