Lloyd Burr: Police out of touch over antidepressant ban

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Lloyd Burr is "alarmed at the message" being sent to New Zealanders (Getty)

OPINION: After decades of progress by health agencies and professionals in destigmatising mental health disorders, Police Commissioner Mike Bush has taken one giant step backwards.

He has banned recruiting those who take psychotropic medication, such as those used to treat depression or anxiety.

In short, he's turned his back on the miracles of modern medicine, and has denied hundreds of wannabe cops from getting their dream job.

I'm alarmed at the message it sends New Zealanders: if you suffer from a mental health illness, you have no place in the police force, you are not worthy, you are a hazard, and you are too unhinged to be a law enforcer.

Even worse, it categorises mental health sufferers as second class citizens.

Commissioner Bush doesn't seem to realise that those who take antidepressants or antianxiety medication can function perfectly well as police officers, as politicians, as journalists, as members of the Army, Air Force, and Navy, as teachers, as public servants, as pretty much anything.

Even more stigmatising is Commissioner Bush's arbitrary two-year stand down period for those who are on prescription mental health drugs - if you want to be a police officer, you are given two years to 'go clean' before being considered for Police College.

Commissioner Bush, those with depression or anxiety are not taking medication just for the hell of it, and it's not a better option to be off the drugs instead of on them.

They serve a purpose, and users cannot control how long they will need them for.

Commissioner, your ban is antiquated, and you urgently need to re-think the policy. Even Health Minister Jonathan Coleman thinks so.

More than half a million Kiwis - or around 16 percent - are diagnosed with a common mental health illness in their lives. I'm sure that includes some current police officers too.

I'm sure police officers make up some of the 428,000 Kiwis who were prescribed antidepressants between 2012-2013. (An increase of 20 percent since 2008).

The ban is also surprising considering mental-health related callouts are at an all-time high, and increasing. How are officers meant to be compassionate at these callouts if their boss has taken his mental health policy from the 1800s.

It's 2017. This policy has no place in a modern police force.

Next you'll be banning gays, and women.

Lloyd is a political reporter for Newshub based in Wellington.