IPA Kenya conduct Mental Wellness Seminar for Police Officers

29 Jun 2019


IPA Kenya organised a three-day seminar on mental wellness for 30 officers of all cadres from the Coast Region of Kenya. The seminar, which ran from 12th-15th May 2019 at the ACK Guest House, Likoni, was a response to an increase in stress-related cases of misconduct noted among police officers. In his opening address, the local police chief, Mr Tom Odero, acknowledged that mental illness was a major challenge and greatly hindered the realisation and maintenance of professional standards within the Service. He mentioned increased reports on alcoholism, absenteeism, broken families, domestic violence, poor discipline and in extreme cases, suicide among officers.

Ms. Rebecca Gitau, a psychosocial support expert from the Nairobi Women’s Hospital, described mentally well people as ‘positive, self-assured and happy. They are in control of their thoughts, emotions and behaviour.’ This enables them to handle challenges, build strong relationships and enjoy life. She further stated that realisation of good mental health was essential for one to: realise their own abilities, cope with the stress and challenges of life, engage in productive work and contribute to community.

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She stressed that sustaining mental health requires time and effort, and that the more one invests in mental health, the stronger it will become. ‘Mental wellness is about being mentally fit just like you would be physically fit. Together with our physical health, our mental health makes up a significant part of our wellbeing as a person’.

Rebecca pointed out that mental wellness is the foundation for emotions, thinking, communication, learning, resilience and self-esteem. It is also key to relationships, personal and emotional well-being and contributing to the community or society. Mental wellness means that we are in an overall state of well-being where we utilise our talents and abilities, cope well with the stresses and problems of everyday life, and live productively as members of our communities.

Unfortunately, police officers are by the nature of their job expected to operate in extremely stressful conditions. This, in most cases takes toll on their ability to cope. Mental health problems begin to occur, affecting mood, thinking and behaviour. Among the most common external causes of mental illnesses identified by the participants were: work related pressures, social or cultural expectations, major changes in life, work pressures, relationship difficulties, financial problems, and being too busy. The common internal sources of stress were identified as: inability to accept uncertainty, pessimism, negative self-talk, unrealistic expectations, perfectionism, and lack of assertiveness.

There is already huge investment in training on work related skills and academic pursuit among police officers in Kenya. But this may not directly improve efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery, until the mental wellness is equally and effectively addressed. The officers were thereafter taken through the simple but effective therapy of four As: Avoid, Alter, Adapt and Accept.  Additionally, developing positive beliefs around our self-worth and expectations for what makes a good life is essential. Prioritising real life social networks of colleagues, friends and family to spend time with people and to share life’s moments, is useful. Proactively managing our environment for safety, satisfaction and personal growth, getting enough sleep and waking up fresh. Being open and honest enough to be able to seek help from friends, family or medical professionals when problems are escalating or we feel we are out of balance. Down-time – switching off from technology occasionally and spending time reflecting.

Stress is a part of life: We can all learn to manage our stress levels: We can all use psychosocial support.

Jared Ojuok, Secretary General IPA Kenya