In one of the world’s most powerful cities, the police administration is, according to one MET officer, “silently suffering from an epidemic of loneliness.”
London’s bustling streets are now silent. Illuminating light from inside the stores is off. The empty underground stations and parking lots are filled by the faint echo of a patrol car, flashing blue strides of light in the dark of night. The police officer, in his fluorescent vest, is finishing his final routine inspection of the area, is thinking about how he misses dropping off his son to school because of the late hours. Like him, and many other policemen, the proud responsibility of keeping London safe is costing them their mental wellbeing. For all of them, working for the MET is a story of surviving loneliness.
Jacob Williams, a 34-year-old busker who frequently plays near Buckingham palace fountain is among the rare outsiders with unintentional knowledge of rotting work culture inside MET departments. “Offices finishing their shifts would come to me and talk about their lives. Sometimes, they would even offer to have a drink. They would say it’s nice to talk to normal people like it is a rare gem to find.” A native of New Zealand who now lives in London has seen officers crumbling under isolation, and had countless conversations with officers after they resign, only to find that in most cases, the job makes you suffer from chronic loneliness.
More than 9 million people in the UK say that they suffer from loneliness and almost two-thirds of them admit to the fact that they feel uncomfortable admitting to it. “I spend hours following code, practising regulations and walking with a responsibility to safeguard other people. Sometimes, weeks pass by and I don’t talk to another soul. I’m single and have left my family back home to earn a better living. I don’t have many friends and it’s hard to sustain relationships with this job. The hardest part of it all is that I cannot talk about feeling lonely in the department,” says Micheal Jones, a police officer who works with the Buckingham Palace security detail.
“You see nothing but flashbacks of your empty life when you’re on duty. Conversations are slow, often formal.” He remembered his last birthday which he spent alone in his car. And then there was a series of heartbreaks followed by sessions with a therapist that pushed him over the edge. Micheal left his job after working in MET for 11 months.
Studies have found that it’s significantly harder for Police officers to seek professional help because of the stigma that exists around mental health. Last year Sadiq Khan expressed his concern about the number of police officers touching the lowest in 16 years. He urged the ministers to provide immediate funding to increase staffing at MET departments but the working culture was not addressed as a factor in the plummeting number of officials. Talking to Lily Hans, a private-therapist who has dealt with many cases of loneliness induced depression and anxiety in policemen says: “It’s one of the loneliest jobs in the world and despite a generous salary and supporting family, I’ve seen mentally strong-built people collapsing from the feeling of abandonment.”
With 42,000 police officers and staff, the MET is Britain’s largest police service and the falling number of employees is one of the major social and political issues faced by London and its government.