Perinatal mental health and police life

Wilkinson, Krystal; Lennie, Sarah-Jane and Duddin, Keely (2023). Perinatal mental health and police life. In: GWO 2023: Gender, Work and Organization Conference, 28-30 Jun 2023, Stellenbosh, South Africa.


Whilst considerable research interest has been directed towards maternity and work, a largely overlooked issue has been mental illness connected to maternity (perinatal mental illness) and its two-way relationship with employment: How certain occupational factors can cause/ exacerbate mental illness at this time and/or affect recovery, and how perinatal mental illness impacts the workplace (i.e., attendance, performance, retention). This is surprising, given prepandemic estimates in the UK that one in five women, and one in 10 men, experienced mental illness in this period, defined as pregnancy and up to one year post-birth (NHS). Using the conceptual framework developed by Wilkinson (2022), we explored the intersection between perinatal mental health and employment in the context of UK policing, a profession that poses unique challenges, both via culture and specific job experiences (Lennie et al., 2020, 2021).
The data we drew on came from the first phase of our project, which involved biographical narrative interviews with 18 male and female police officers/staff with lived experience of navigating perinatal mental illness alongside police work/careers, either in terms of their own illness or that of their partner. There was diversity in our sample in terms of both perinatal mental health conditions and job roles. Individuals spoke of anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts, and PTSD, undiagnosed through to admission to bespoke mother and baby Units (MBUs). Job roles spanned 11 UK police forces, and included PC, PS, DI, DC/CID, response, and crime-scene examiner.
We used bio-ecological systems theory, informed by rhythmanalysis (see Wilkinson, 2022) —a framework that allows consideration of the interactions between biology, socio-cultural context, agency, and time —to show how factors at different levels have an influence on individual men and women’s pathways of experience through illness and recovery. These include general awareness and attitudes at the macro-level (silence and stigma); job requirements, operational practices and culture in policing (exo-system); the way in which police interact with mental health services (meso-system); and key workplace relationships (in the micro-setting) over time.
We show how police-specific job/career factors influence mental illness experience and viceversa, and explain how our research team has been working with various stakeholders in UK policing to raise awareness and develop appropriate policy/provisions.

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