Emotional toll on police handling Occupy protests, psychologists say
Police officers are frequently moved to tears by unprecedented emotional pressure in handling the Occupy Central movement, the force's psychologists say.
"We really feel our colleagues' pressure," clinical psychologist Alison Mak Lai-ping said. "I've been in the police for so many years but I've never seen a time when colleagues cry every day."
She said many front-line officers felt wronged when their Facebook friends "unfriended" them on social media over their role.
They also got into arguments with relatives - some of whom were involved in the protests - who blamed them for suppressing the pro-democracy activists.
"Social support is very important in relieving pressure," Mak said. "Now their social support has been weakened."
The officers had also experienced physical stress, working long hours and sometimes being verbally attacked by protesters, senior police clinical psychologist Ingrid Mak Wing-fun said.
She said the pressure was even greater than in 2005, when police used tear gas and pepper spray to deal with protesting Korean farmers during the World Trade Organisation ministerial conference in Wan Chai.
The psychologists said they had not received any individual calls or referrals for help because everyone had been focusing on the Occupy movement.
But when they visited the protest scenes and reached out to front-line officers, they found many having to "endure humiliation as part of their mission".
The eight psychologists in the police, working 12 hours a day, took turns visiting the front-line officers, they said.
Ingrid Mak said psychologists and commanders had realised that the pressure might cause officers to take out their stress on others or themselves, so commanders tried to give front-line officers as much rest as possible.
In sessions with the officers, the psychologists also suggested they read fewer news feeds and communicate more with their families, she added.
The psychologists said the culturally close-knit police team had also provided another form of important "family support" to the officers.