LAST week, one Scottish newspaper ran the headline “Morale among Police Scotland rank and file at ‘rock bottom’ amid soaring mental health absences”.

Police Professional, the usually more accurate UK law enforcement journal used the same “mental health” label for absences actually recorded by Police Scotland as due to “psychological disorder and stress-related absence”.

Notably, but not mentioned in media reports, the 22% increase over five years conceals the fact that, based on Police Scotland’s published figures, such absences had actually fallen by 15% between 2019/20 and 2020/21.

Year-on-year fluctuation is to be expected and simply adding up the data over enough years to get a big headline number is simply poor journalism.

However, as I suggest above, there is a more serious misrepresentation of reality in crudely conflating stress and mental health illness.

First, we do not know what percentage of the absences are due to formally diagnosed mental health illness.

While I am by no means underestimating the costs of stress and recognise that unrelieved high stress levels can lead to more serious mental health illness, they are not the same thing.

Let me quote the mental health charity Mind: “Stress is not normally considered a mental health problem. But it is connected to our mental health in several ways.”

As a former police officer, I understand the presence of stress in the job and the damaging effects it can have.

Steps must be taken to deal with it but to present the information in a way that suggests mental health illnesses are “soaring” among police officers is to irresponsibly increase anxiety among their colleagues and the wider public who depend upon them.

Allan Dorans is the SNP MP for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock and a former detective inspector with the Metropolitan Police