This story has been shared with the permission of the Hampshire Police Federation.
We feel that it is important to share personal accounts such as these from serving Officers, in order to help highlight the many challenges which come with serving in the emergency services.
The wellbeing, both physical and mental, of the men and women who serve in the emergency services is important and should never be overlooked.
We MUST look after the men and women who sign up in order to look after us; our families, our friends and our loved ones.
Can you imagine dialling 999 during what could be the most traumatic moment in your life, and not having anyone to help you? Perish the thought.
But in truth, most people take the emergency services, the job they do and the sacrifices which they make, for granted.
Of course, the humour and banter is important too and forms an essential part of the job, but stories such as this remind us why its also important to remember that we are only human:
Police officers are human too – An officer’s story
These are the words of a serving police officer. An officer who, despite her young service is now damaged because of the continuous exposure to trauma. This brave officer is now receiving the help she needs and is starting her road to recovery. This is her story….
A tragic fatal, a few hangings, countless sudden deaths, a horrendous assault on colleagues and first attending officer at a murder. Now I am here. In the space of 18 months I have gone from being a very capable response officer, to being off on long term sick. I can’t help but feel like a failure for being here already, at a relatively early point in my career.
The term “PTSD” has been thrown around a lot. Although I am being treated now, I find myself questioning things on a daily basis. How on earth did I get here? Have I been damaged beyond repair? Will I ever be the person I was before this? And ultimately, could this have been prevented?
I guess a lot of those questions may remain unanswered for the time being, but one thing I know for certain is that I would not wish this on my worst enemy.
I have considered regularly whether there is anything I could have done to prevent myself getting to this point. I think it is in our very nature as police officers to think that we have to be strong and that we can cope; and for the most part we can. Each of the incidents I mentioned individually would still have been very unpleasant, however I am certain that I could have come to terms with and processed them in time. The problem with policing of course is you never know what is around the corner. It is the cumulative effect of exposure to multiple trauma incidents that has broken me. We are all human beings underneath our uniform and it is a simple fact that the human brain can only cope with so much.
I was mildly aware of my mental health deteriorating, but I would try to ignore it, to carry on, assuming it would get better on its own or just putting it down to having a bad day. I will let you imagine for yourselves the effect this had on my personal life.
Seven months prior to going off work, I finally realised I wasn’t coping. I needed some help. I had thought this before on several occasions but the uncertainty of not knowing the effect it would have on my career, not knowing exactly who I would end up speaking to and the fear of being branded as “completely bonkers” was enough to prevent me picking up the phone.
Eventually, after dialling 4 times and hanging up, I plucked up the courage to remain on the phone and speak to the Employee Support Service. The person I spoke to was lovely and very understanding, however she was also very honest. She could only offer me 6 counselling sessions. She explained that this would only be able to address one incident of trauma and not multiple. Their service was not suitable to help me. It was already too late, damage had already been done.
The barriers I have mentioned were also enough to stop me going to my GP and so I did what I think, unfortunately, most police officers do (because let’s face it we are all pretty good actors), I put on a brave face and carried on. Meanwhile, I was only getting worse, not better, and the list of difficult incidents for my brain to process grew.
I don’t think I would have ever admitted defeat and chosen to go off work. I had asked for help and essentially been told no. I felt as though I must battle on because I looked around at my colleagues, and outwardly they appeared to be coping. They seemed fine so why didn’t I feel fine? It was only after the pressure began having such an effect on my personal life and physical health that I was left with no choice but to speak with my GP.
I was signed off with “Stress” as that is the term that can be used as a bit of a coverall for mental health and prescribed with anti- depressants. I only expected to be off for a few days and assumed I’d be back to work. Surely Occupational Health would be keen to contact anyone who is off with stress? Surely now at least I would be offered some help so that I could carry on doing this very silly job that so many of us, hate and love at the same time?
I couldn’t have been more wrong. After hearing nothing for the first few days, I began emailing and attempting to call Occupational Health requesting to see them. Despite this, it took 3 weeks before I was contacted and given an appointment. I attended, feeling hopeful that this would provide me with the help I’d been so desperately needing. Sadly, once again I was utterly disappointed. I felt the purpose of the meeting was not to help or support me but instead a paper exercise. As I told them I was regularly seeing my GP, Occupational Health decided not to refer me for any Therapy but instead leave it with the NHS. This was despite me being uncomfortably honest about having daily thoughts of suicide. I was told to come back in 6 weeks, and that was it.
The NHS waiting list for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy was up to 8 months. What was I supposed to do for 8 months? I felt stuck at home and worse than before. Not only was I having to confront and accept myself that I am unwell, but I now felt unsupported and forgotten about by the organisation.
I tried to work out how I could help myself. I found that although there is lot of support out there aimed at helping police officers to cope, it all seemed to be aimed at the mild stages of poor mental well-being. I could not find anything geared up for treating what I was diagnosed with, suspected PTSD and Severe Depression. I didn’t need a virtual cuddle over the phone, the time for that had long since passed, I needed proper treatment.
After two months of being off work, I was getting nowhere, l felt I had been well and truly defeated by my damaged brain. The frustration became too much to bear. I somehow mustered up the courage to speak up, mainly out of pure desperation. I had an uncomfortable conversation with my line manager informing him in unpleasant detail exactly why I was off, and that I was feeling unsupported. Although I am very glad I did, this is something I never should have felt I had to do; something I worry that most others would not do.
A despairing friend also made contact with the Police Federation on my behalf. Thankfully these people fought my corner for me when I had completely run out of energy.
10 weeks after first going off sick, I finally attended my first session of Trauma Therapy. I have now been signed off for over 3 months. Although I am not yet ready to return, the therapy is definitely positive.
This experience has made me realise how common mental health concerns are among police officers. Far more than I have ever cared to notice previously. Many colleagues have reached out to me; some were shocked as they never realised I was struggling, others told me of their own struggles and made me feel slightly less alone.
I can’t help but wonder whether I wasn’t provided help sooner because of the associated cost involved? This baffles me. With police numbers being at an all-time low and saving money being at the top of the agenda; surely it is more cost effective to pay for treatment, (therefore encouraging a swift return to work) than to do nothing and pay a full wage to officers off sick for a prolonged period of time?
Remember, that if ever you feel like you need to talk to someone, regardless of which service you are in, then you can contact Minds’ dedicated blue light trained team by clicking here
To find out more about the team behind Emergency Services Media, Emergency Services Humour on Facebook and the team behind our satirical emergency-services-related fortnightly eMagazine, then click HERE
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