Mental health and the National Crime Agency

Hannah Smith, an NCA officer

Speaking as someone who once suffered debilitating and frequent panic attacks just at the thought of leaving the house, I’m passionate about overturning the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

Working in a fast paced, often highly pressured environment may not seem like the ideal arena for someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder, but the National Crime Agency is working to end the stigma and see the benefits of employing and supporting people with ill mental health.

When applying for a job at the NCA, my mental health problems were a worry. In my previous role, I had coping strategies in place and wondered if moving to a global agency would suit me, especially when one of my biggest triggers was travel. But I’ve found a nurturing environment and been given the support to deal with my mental ill health.

I’ve had several roles in the NCA, but everywhere I’ve gone I’ve been treated with compassion and support by colleagues and line managers who’ve all tried to understand my thinking and encouraged me to see the benefits of the way my brain works. I love planning (maybe to an obsessive level!) but I’ve been encouraged to use that to my advantage, using my organisational skills and sometimes abstract thinking in my work. And I’ve been allowed the time and flexibility to deal with flair ups.

Mental health issues don’t discriminate — they can affect anyone, from the strongest firearms officer to the smartest crime analyst, from trainees to senior managers.

Our remit covers some of the most demanding, sensitive and pressurised work possible, and this often highly stressed environment could, understandably, cause mental ill health if not supported properly.

The NCA’s responded by promoting an environment where employees are encouraged to talk, with a 24-hour support line for staff provided by occupational health and flexible working options available.

Initiatives such as training courses, mental health first aiders and a buddy system are being put into place to start to educate our officers about different types of mental ill health, how to manage them and how to support colleagues. Officers are learning that there’s no stigma attached to mental health disorders. There’s no weakness, but strength in fighting to overcome these issues.

The support of colleagues, and knowing that I’m in an understanding environment, has helped me take huge leaps forward in my own health. Now travelling to London every week to work in the southern hubs, and travelling internationally, some of my issues are a thing of the past. But I’m comfortable in the knowledge that I have contingency plans supported by my department and colleagues if I do suffer.

There’s more work to do but I’m proud to work for an agency that’s been such a positive influence on my mental health and has given me opportunities that at one point I never thought possible.

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