The Police Dependants’ Trust has a long history of supporting Police Forces and their sports associations through our Wellbeing Fund which encourages local initiatives aimed at improving health and wellbeing of police officers and staff.
Following the publication of our research Injury on Duty, current police personnel (PDT & University of Surrey, 2016), we have been reviewing how we can increase the impact of our work and support more people. The PDT has decided to increase its focus on improving the mental health and wellbeing of those who have been injured at work, both physically and psychologically. From our research, 80% of officers and staff reported that they had experienced at least one physical or psychological injury and of those 42% had experienced a psychological injury or mental health issue due to work. Anxiety at 43% and depression at 37% were the top two mental health issues, with a further 20% also saying they had experienced a sleeping disorder.
Review of our Wellbeing Grants scheme, which provides grants of up to £3,000 for one-off projects, indicates a significant proportion of these grants have simply been made to upgrade and modernise gyms and equipment. To help align our Wellbeing Grant activity with the research findings we have undertaken a desktop literature review of published research to inform our future funding for sports associations and other exercise-based projects.
The people we want to reach with funded projects
From our research, we will be looking for projects that target the following groups:
- Those returning/ recently returned to work due to a physical injury
- Those returning/ recently returned to work due to stress/anxiety
- Those who experience depression
- Those who suffer from insomnia & poor sleep
Guidance on activity after a physical injury varies depending on the nature and severity of the injury itself, however advice from the NHS is similar in that it’s important to start with gentle exercise and stretching to help regain full function, flexibility and strength before carrying on activities as before. Where the injury is taking longer than expected to help, a referral to physiotherapy is recommended.
The role activity has on mental health and wellbeing is only relatively recently being understood however there is research that suggests that activity can have a positive effect on improving wellbeing and supporting those with specific mental health illnesses. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2014) found that those who had done moderate intensity sport within the last four weeks, on average ‘reported happiness scores 0.8% greater than those who had not.’
The recent research by Cardiff Metropolitan University (2018) on health and wellbeing within South Wales Police highlights the impact of activity, stating that ‘89.25% of employees met the National Health Service Physical activity guidelines [and those that did were] significantly more engaged at work and had significantly better general health that those who did not.’
The Mental Health Foundation (2013) conducted an extensive literature review and compiled their recommendations for how different types of activity can support someone’s mental health and wellbeing. It’s important to note at this stage that physical activity should not be seen as a ‘chore’ or something that needs fixing but should be something ‘we do to enhance wellbeing’ (Mental Health Foundation, 2013).
Krogh, J. et al (2011) reviewed published trails and found that there was a positive outcome for depression when activity was supervised and aerobic. On reading this study and others like it, the Mental Health Foundation (2013) concedes that research is mixed and results vary depending on severity of depression, but in general when looking at how exercise could help those with depression their recommendations are making it supervised, either through a professional or peer supporter, giving structure times but allowing for personal preference about types of activity and intensity. In MIND (2017) Get Set to Go Programme, they focused on increasing activity for those suffering from depression through peer support. The results do not necessarily see an improvement in their mental health but a perception of being able to maintain their depression and feeling an increase in their social support network.
Conn V. S. (2010) found that activity was most effective at reducing anxiety when programmes provided supervised, moderate or high-intensity at an exercise facility. However Mental Health Foundation (2013) thought results from various studies were mixed and ‘less is known about the effect on exercise on specific severe types of anxiety, such as panic attacks, social anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder’.
Hölzel et. al (2010) studied the impact of eight weeks of daily yoga and meditation practice, which resulted in a reduction in self-reported stress that also ‘correlated positively with decreases in right basolateral amygdala gray matter density.’ The amygdala plays a crucial role in stress responses and releasing hormones associated with the Fight, Flight or Freeze response, suggesting that such activity can reduce anxiety and aid with resilience.
When reviewing several studies on the effect of activity on chronic insomnia, the Mental Health Foundation (2013) concluded that ‘a single session of 50 minutes moderate intensity aerobic exercise’ was enough to see a difference in sleep quality and when done over a six-month period, three times a week ‘resulted in improved sleep, greater quality of life, reduced negative moods such as tension, depression and anger’.
With this research in mind, the PDT is prioritising projects based around the following:
- For physical injury to include daily stretching and light exercise, e.g. Yoga/Pilates, over a period of 8 weeks.
- For stress/anxiety to include daily supervised activity varying in intensity, e.g. Yoga, over a period of 8 weeks.
- For depression to make it supervised, either through a professional or peer supporter, giving structured times but allowing for personal preference about types of activity and intensity over a 12-week period.
- For insomnia to include 50-minute sessions of moderate to high intensity aerobic activity, three times a week over a six-month period.
It is worth noting that there are different types of physical activity, which are sometimes grouped under the following headings:
- Sport – structured and competitive physical activity
- Exercise – planned and purposive physical activity to improve fitness, health or performance
- Play – unstructured physical activity done for fun and enjoyment
- Daily physical activity – physical activity which is done as part of one’s daily routines.It is worth noting that there are different types of physical activity, which are sometimes grouped under the following headings:
There are many perceived barriers to activity. These include but are not limited to financial barriers, locations, availability, time.
Further consideration should be given to outdoor vs indoor, female only classes, shift patterns and types of activities available.
In particular, one finding from Cardiff Metropolitan University (2018) research was ‘respondents often felt that they were not sporty, or good enough’ and recommended expanding on the types of activities available to include walking clubs, exercise classes, etc.