Police officers are shunning the psychiatric services provided by the government, often to their own detriment, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said on Thursday.
"In many instances they are not emotionally and psychologically equipped to handle those stressful situations which frequently lead to catastrophic impact on their mental wellness, with unfortunate outcomes," he said.
Mthethwa was speaking in Lynnwood, east of Pretoria, at the official opening of a block of offices for the SA Police Service Medical Scheme (Polmed).
"We have noted that, unfortunately, the uptake and utilisation of the available psychiatric benefits via the psychiatric disease risk management programme (DRM) is well below optimal levels," he said.
"We further note that the voluntary enrolment onto the DRM is not reaping the benefits you envisaged it would have, mostly due to the fact that members do not enrol onto the programme."
Mthethwa said a Polmed analysis indicated there were three specific psychiatric conditions probably originating from the stressful working environment of police officers.
"These conditions are depression, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Based on the claims experience, we learnt that there are 10,636 members suffering from depression; 2763 members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. What is further worrying is the number of attempted suicides by [SA Police Service] members."
Mthethwa said the low use of the psychiatric programmes arose from a perception among police officers that the service was inadequate.
"Whilst there have been some members who have utilised such programmes, sadly, we still have some myopic perceptions that going for counselling is considered 'sissy or weak'. We need to dispel such misconceptions because they are destroying and negatively affecting our members."
Mthethwa said there were 515 service providers (psychologists, social workers and chaplains) providing debriefing services to active police members.
"However, if one considers the fact that there are over 160,000 active SAPS members, the reality is that the available 515 providers are insufficient to reach all SAPS members that require help."
He said he had asked newly-appointed national police commissioner Riah Phiyega to increase these services.
Mthethwa said police management had embarked on a major drive to raise fitness levels among police officers.
"We do not need overweight police officers. Police management, in particular station commanders, must prioritise training and fitness by putting at police stations various intervention programmes aimed at addressing obesity and potential health problems."