Forgotten Heroes: The pandemics mental impact on security officers by Paul Lotter, Managing Director, Corps Security

A discussion on mental health has been widely deliberated, and for good reason. Throughout last year, the UK population found themselves stripped of choice, freedom, and left in a perpetual state of uncertainty. Placed in a nationwide lockdown, emotions ran high for every person, and people’s wellbeing topped the agenda.

Whilst most stayed at home, many fought on as key workers. We’ve seen fantastic awareness campaigns, from huge movements like ‘clapping for the NHS’ to simple gestures on social media. However, the term ‘key workers’ is somewhat loose or misunderstood, for the majority of key workers are never referred to or treated as such. This couldn’t be truer for the security officers that work tirelessly 24/7 to keep all of us safe.

Shocking results from a YouGov survey revealed that the role of the security officer ranked ninth out of ten in the essential services list, behind postal workers and pharmacists, and only just ahead of traffic wardens. A saddening statistic for ex-military personnel and dedicated officers who put others ahead of themselves every day.

Despite many having a hardened exterior, security officers are still people, and the pandemic hasn’t spared them from its wrath. This lack in recognition adds more fuel to the tenderness that is mental health. It’s time to give the security officers the recognition they truly deserve and spread awareness on how their sacrifices throughout the pandemic has impacted their own wellbeing.

Left behind

Ex-military transition into security officer roles far easier than other professions and ex-military make up a significant percentage of security officers in the UK. Veterans bring with them an array of talents, a diverse skillset, and an attitude fit for the role. When the pandemic hit and buildings were deserted, security officers were left behind to protect businesses property. For many security officers, this meant working in complete isolation, in a location that once burst with life.

Mental and physical health are interconnected. Social isolation and loneliness are associated with higher anxiety, depression, and suicide rates. In terms of ex-military personnel with a history of combat experience, isolation can have negative repercussions on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The longer isolation occurs, the higher someone’s risk is for developing more severe mental illness. For those with first-hand combat experience, PTSD is a devastating mental affliction many soldiers take back with them after combat. According to Very Well Mind, one of the most common internal triggers of PTSD is isolation and loneliness, an unavoidable aspect to being a security officer over the past year. The selfless bravery of these men and women to continue their role in potential trigger zones is undisputed and deserves more public recognition.

However, this doesn’t mean isolation only distresses those with military experience. According to psychiatrists, the Covid world itself is causing severe mental health problems and introducing PTSD symptoms to those with no previous affiliation. Licensed psychotherapist, Haley Neidich, comments: “We are also beginning to see individuals who meet the clinical criteria for PTSD due to ongoing isolation without any prior history. Humans are not meant to live in solitude long term, and this lack of support and human connection is frequently traumatic.[1]

There’s always something to be done to betterment mental health and help our security officers feel connected. One of the ways to counter PTSD triggers is social support. Despite the lockdown restrictions, social support can come in many creative and careful ways. Here at Corps, we introduced several measures to ensure none of our security officers felt left behind during the lockdown, and to this day continue these positive campaigns.

Team spirit

Managers have had to adjust to caring for their staff remotely, regularly checking in, providing online resources, and hosting virtual events. Despite these valuable means of support, not enough within our industry has been done to support security officers. It is imperative to remember that some people have been working on the frontline since the pandemics inception, and this elation of time can toll negative connotations to mental health. Wellbeing measures must be tailored to each unique person. A general attempt without individual consideration will not improve the situation.

A study by mental health organisation TalkOut surveyed 1,500 UK workers. 60% said that their employers had not organised any virtual social activities to support them while working remotely. This creates further isolation on top of an already isolated workforce. According to psychologist, Vicky Pawsey, “It is incumbent on employers to make sure that those involved in providing employees with support are equipped with the sometimes complex range of skills and resources involved, and importantly that there is also appropriate provision for supporting the supporters.[2]

As a people centric business, we did not want to follow in the footsteps of these businesses that failed their employees. Therefore, during the pandemic we organised one-to-one check-ins with our officers to talk about mental and physical wellbeing, as did some other organisations. However, what we also looked at was what could be done to make their vital work easier and less stressful. Corps provided teams with step-by-step advice on how to support customers while also caring for each other. In areas where public transport was reduced or officers did not feel comfortable using potentially busy transport, we offered support in planning their commutes to and from their place of work.

In terms of our ex-military personnel, we enhanced our long-standing relationship with the organisation Combat Stress. Their work supports the mental wellbeing of veterans and doesn’t shy from the reality that poor mental health can stay with people long after the stage of stress. As well as us, Combat Stress understand that the long-term mental health issues of the pandemic cannot be something forgotten. Just like veterans coming back from tours with the military, the fragility of peoples mental health as an outcome to the pandemic mustn’t be brushed aside just because the ordeal is finally over.

Lest we forget

In the process of getting people back to the office, the frontline should not be forgotten again. These security officers are key workers and must be treated as such. Many of these people have been working in isolation for over 18 months and now expected to work like nothing happened in buildings now full of people. Nearly 50% of people are fearful of a world back to ‘normal’, with Doctors forecasting what some experts are now calling ‘the fourth wave’ of the COVID-19 pandemic…the mental health wave.

This isn’t the time to move on from the support businesses have given employees. Now more than ever is the time to be there for each other. At Corps, we will continue to support our teams, our customers, and everyone who needs it. We won’t forget what our security officers went through for us and what they continue to do now to keep everyone safe. These brave men and women are key workers, and it’s time they were recognised as such. For what they’ve continued to do, despite the repercussions on their mental health, has been nothing short of heroic.

Author: Paul Lotter, Managing Director, Corps Security