Police say recruits on anti-depressants pose a risk to the police force, a view the Mental Health Foundation has slammed as unacceptable.
Marty Fox, the police national manager of wellness and safety, defended the policy preventing new recruits on anti-depressants from joining the police, and said patients on anti-depressants were in danger of “spontaneously” relapsing.
That was “a risk for NZ Police”, he said.
“The goal for treating these illnesses is remission where the individual [is] no longer symptomatic and is functioning normally. A partial response to treatment without remission is not absolute and can come with a higher risk of relapse.
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“Hence the two year stand down guideline applies to ensure the recruit applicant has been treated effectively and is fully recovered.”
Stuart Nash, Labour’s spokesman for police, agreed with the policy saying it protected those with a precondition from harmful situations.
“I think there are enough people out there who would make brilliant police officers without any existing mental health condition.” “Do we want someone with an existing mental health condition in the police force, considering the high degree of stress, week-in week-out, that a lot of these officers face?
“I just think it’s a lot safer for men and women who want to become police, and for our communities, if people who want to enter the police don’t have an existing condition.”
However Mental Health Foundation chief executive Stuart Robinson said Nash’s comments were “simple-minded and unacceptable” and those with mental illnesses often dealt with stress better than those without.
“It is doubly disappointing that a Labour Party spokesperson is trying to defend discrimination and is in fact revealing an extremely disappointing degree of ignorance about mental health.
“If they [people with mental illness] have been supported well then they will have also learned ways to manage stress in order to maintain their health and wellbeing.”
Robinson thought the reasoning was “complete gobbledegook”.
“It is not correct to say that anyone who is on anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication that the aim is eventually not be on anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication.
“The objective within mental health is not necessarily lack of mental illness, the objective is for people to be able to feel good and function well and be extremely effective in the workplace including in workplaces such as the police force.
“Medications will help to manage the symptoms but the objective is not necessarily to eventually have to give the medications up.”
Police also said serving officers who took anti-depressants were not required to declare their medication to a senior officer, a policy Robinson said was “a complete contradiction” to the two-year ban.
“They don’t require those people to disclose. They’re obviously quite happy for those officers to continue being serving officers, then clearly they’re quite comfortable with the fact that people can be on anti-depressants and an effective police officer.
“Being a serving police officer is undoubtedly stressful but it is incumbent on the police force to provide the supports to people to manage that stress.
“The way to do that is not to put in a blanket discriminatory ban against people who have accessed anti-depressant medication.”
Robinson said Ministry of Health surveys indicated one in every two New Zealanders would experience a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetime.
“This is not a small number of people and it is not a small number of people who will be excluded from potentially serving in the Police force.”
Police Minister Paula Bennett was contacted about the policy but a member of her office said it would be inappropriate for her to comment.