A Mental Leap

By Naomi Austen, Axis Group HR Director

Naomi Austen, Axis Group’s HR Director, considers the role that security officers play in helping vulnerable people in the worst of times and how they can be better supported.

As I write this article, we are in the middle of this year’s Mental Health Awareness week. It is a week that has seen many campaigns run across all types of media with thought-provoking statistics which serve as a poignant reminder that many of us are dealing with, or suffering from, mental health problems.

Naomi Austen, Group HR Director
Naomi Austen, Group HR Director

According to the mental health charity Mind, each year one in four people in the UK will experience mental health problems. Whilst mental health problems vary widely from person to person, the overall number of people suffering from a mental health issue has not changed significantly in recent years. The same concerns around money, job security, and personal relationships still prevail, making it harder for people to cope, and sometimes pushing people to the brink.

Security Officers are on the front line, called to incidents long before the emergency services are on the scene; working in public environments exposes security officers to the trauma and distress of coming into contact with vulnerable people intent on doing harm either to themselves or the people around them.

In fact three academics, two from the University of Portsmouth (Dr Risto Talas and Professor Mark Button) and one from Solent University (Dr Mark Doyle) have analysed a survey questionnaire distributed by the GMB Union and a number of follow-up interviews with security operatives in the UK to discover that more than a third (38%) of those who completed the questionnaire could be diagnosed as suffering from PTSD.

The same research revealed 43% of officers have witnessed a situation where someone was seriously injured or killed, and more than a third (37%) have also actually either been seriously injured themselves, or have been in a situation where they feared they may be injured or killed.

All too often we hear of the brave and genuinely heroic efforts our officers make to help and protect vulnerable people, and this will no doubt be the same of every other manned guarding company.

As a security company our job is to keep people safe, and our officers are trained to protect property and people from a security risk. They are trained, also, to spot an individual who may pose a risk to everyone else, but on any given day officers on the front line are also identifying the individual who poses a risk to themselves.

We have had reports from customers who have witnessed security officers show exceptional bravery by stepping into unpredictable situations. One particular incident on Christmas Eve last year at Woking Shopping Centre involved Axis Security officers who prevented a man from jumping over a fourth floor railing with a ligature tied around his neck. The quick thinking and courage of our two officers prevented the man from taking his own life before the Police could step in to take over and assess the man under the Mental Health Act.

Shopping centres are very public spaces but vulnerable people can be found almost anywhere. The homeless can also cause a major issue for officers working at city centre sites, for example, and need special care. Securing university campuses also presents a unique set of challenges where the vulnerable person is likely to be young and away from home, possibly for the first time, and the university has a duty of care to look after its students.

We know that these incidents can be challenging, and in the worst cases traumatising, for those involved. We need to equip our officers with the skills to approach these situations with confidence so that they can help that vulnerable person in the best possible way.

The reports always praise the calmness and fast reactions of the officers involved. These are all attributes that security officers are trained to have, but we want to go further and give them more training on how to deal with specific situations and how to make a positive difference to those suffering from Mental Health issues.

To help support the industry, The Axis Academy, Axis Security’s dedicated learning and development resource, will be launching a range of Mental Health awareness courses suitable for all levels of officer and management. These courses include Mental Health First Aid, and Supervising Mental Health First Aid. All courses are taught by knowledgeable trainers using a variety of modern teaching methods to make them interesting, engaging and enjoyable so that officers get the best out of the time they spend in the classroom.