The decline of mental health in the security industry

March 7, 2024


mental health

SJUK hears from Chris Middleton, Director of Major Accounts & Strategic Development at Corps Security about mental health in the security industry.

Are we making any difference, I often ask myself when it comes to supporting our security industry colleagues with mental health related issues that have or continue to impact them in their daily working lives? 

Are companies taking it seriously, or just ticking boxes?

I will be sharing my thoughts and findings here. 

I don’t have too much to go on when it comes to published research of the UK security industry, which should surely be a red flag.

To give some context here, the UK Security Industry Authority (SIA) has over 400,000 licenced security personnel throughout the UK. 

Given the variety of different security roles and the demanding environments any one of those licenced operatives could end up working in, it is inevitable that at some point, they will likely succumb to some form of abuse, either physical or verbal.

It is also extremely likely for those in more front-line roles, that they could have to intervene in an emergency, where a life is in danger, or a person poses a risk to themselves or others. 

We must not forget those security professionals who work in nonregulated roles, such as in-house security, security consultants, public sector and government protective security roles.

Mental health does not discriminate. Everyone working in the security sector, will either know someone who has been impacted by poor mental health, or they will have experienced it themselves, the research suggests.

At the start of the covid pandemic back in 2020, I was already starting to see the early signs of mental health taking its toll of those around me, both professionally and in my private circles. I was also seeing the impact of it, through my colleagues, especially those who were in literally on the frontline dealing with the public via mental health related interventions. 

I went on record several times saying that that whilst we were still navigating our way through an unprecedented global covid pandemic, my fear was that there was another pandemic waiting in the wings; Mental Health.

Mental Health, its aftermath and post trauma related issues relating to the pandemic could affect us all, especially those who were already vulnerable and having to deal with mental health related matters, including me.  

As we saw during the pandemic, there were lots of people coming together virtually and trying to help one another.

There were many other initiatives and collaborations taking place that made me appreciate what our profession can achieve, when everyone put their shoulder to the wheel.

We train and prepare for emergency scenarios constantly, test various incident and crisis management plans and it felt like we just had a job to do, and we had to just to get on and do it. 

In hindsight, for some, this was at a cost to their mental health. 

Published research 

I remember coming across the below headline, when looking to what research was out there.      

Four in ten security guards in the UK are suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), from verbal and physical abuse, according to researchers at the University of Portsmouth.

The research that was published in April 2020 had been led by Dr Risto Talas and Prof Mark Button, criminologist in the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies (ICJS) at Portsmouth.  

Prof Button said: “With almost 40 per cent of those surveyed exhibiting symptoms of PTSD, it leaves a very clear message that the issue of mental health is not currently being taken seriously by security managers. There is an emerging picture of a failure by the security industry to address these issues. 

“The research has revealed a worrying lack of support provided by the security companies. This must change and more research is required on what the security industry must do to address this issue before it becomes a larger societal issue, with added pressure on the limited mental health and wellbeing services provided by the NHS.” 

The irony here was, this was published and hardly anyone in the security industry took note or had sight of it, given they were in a situation never seen before in our lifetime.

However it was seen by a small cohort, who felt compelled to try and do something and investigate what solutions if any could be given to support those security professionals who were in need of mental health signposting.  

It would be the catalyst to the launch of Security Minds Matter campaign, led by Mike Hurst.               

I was delighted to join Mike and other colleagues in the setting up and launch this much need campaign, which won Campaign of The Year at the Fire and Security Matters Awards in 2023.

I am pleased to say it continues and has lots of subject matter experts leading a new strategy for 2024 and beyond to help tackle the existing challenges we face. 

In terms of published findings or specific research on the impact of Mental Health to the UK security sector, since Professors Button’s work was published, there has been no further studies to recognise the impact.

So, in the absence of specific industry data, we must refer to other data sets to give us an indication on what the general view of mental health related issues are in the UK workplace in 2024.

According to the website, spill chat. 

  • Around 1 in 6 people (14.7%) experience mental health problems in the workplace.  
  • 1 in 3 employees still feel that mental health support in their workplace is inadequate and would like more support from their employers
  • Only 13% of employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health in the workplace
  • Mental health issues cost the global economy around $1 trillion every year
  • Employees take around 18 days off a year to deal with stress, depression, or anxiety, while taking around 10 days for injuries, 17 days for physical ill-health, and 15 days for musculoskeletal disorders
  • Poor workplace mental health costs UK employers around £56 billion every year, with a 25% increase since 2019
  • 17% of employees will struggle with a diagnosed mental health condition this year. They’ll be in emotional pain and might not be able to work or function
  • 89% of employees with mental health issues say it impacts their working life. More than half of these have considered resigning from a job because it negatively impacted their mental wellbeing

So where are we now? 

Many companies have invested in appointing Mental Health First Aiders, however the return on investment is still to be qualified.

The security industry is trying to address the stigma around mental health, with a few security providers hosting mental health related events, as a call to action.

My employer, Corps Security instigated this back in May 2023. Mental health related issues in the workplace are on the rise, and the impact is being felt in our industry.

Now would be a good time for a research project to be undertaken, as it has been over four years since the last one, and much has changed, and not for the better. 

Seeing first hand some of the challenges our industry faces, this inspired me to present a solution and led to me setting up Running on Empty as a Co-Founder with other likeminded security professionals. is dedicated to empowering individuals in the security industry to enhance their mental wellness through the application of physical activity.

It is also designed to help foster communities and belonging, by way of social prescribing. The response and support from industry thus far has been fantastic.

It is still early days, but we have big plans on doing our bit to be more about prevention, than the cure.  

This article was originally published in the March Edition of Security Journal United Kingdom. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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