It shows great courage to speak to someone

This story contains mentions of death and a dead body.

The role of being a police officer has had a continuous effect on my mental wellbeing. We see things that the general public don’t. When we attend incidents like sudden deaths, we are expected to deal with the deceased as well as the family on scene. Violent incidents, such as stabbings and shootings also have an impact. You do rely on your colleagues for the camaraderie to get you through, although that isn’t always enough.

“It shows great courage to speak to someone about what’s going on in your head”

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The incident I attended which caused the most mental strife was in late 2019. A call came through stating that somebody had been hit by a train nearby.

Credit West Midlands Police

As I was only around the corner, I made my way to the nearest bridge to check the line. On arrival I looked over the wall and saw the train approximately 200 meters along the track and what appeared to be a rubbish bag in the middle of the track. This however was not the case, and the item on the track was in fact part of the victim’s body.

I completed the relevant enquiries and processes at the track, and was then requested to attend the nearby mental health unit to identify the victim. I then arranged to meet the next of kin at the unit.

“I spoke to my colleagues after the incident, but it wasn’t helping”

After a few days, I realised that this event had affected me. I spoke to my colleagues after the incident like I had many times before, but it wasn’t helping. I began to experience night terrors and sleepwalking. I struggled to get in the train where the crash was and suffered from flash backs.

I decided that the lack of sleep and bad dreams was a phase and self-medicated to help myself sleep with scotch. This didn’t help. I know colleagues that after a ‘rough day’ also do this, and although it may get you to sleep it doesn’t address the issues behind it. The alcohol probably made things worse as my sleep walking increased and I was constantly getting up more tired than I had the night before.

In November 2019 I decided I needed to speak to someone about what was going on, so made an appointment with a doctor. This was the most difficult talk I’ve ever had.

In the police it is still believed that it is best to bottle things up and rely on your colleagues to get you through. Unfortunately, on this occasion it was not enough. Talking to my doctor was the best decision I made. I was supported, listened to and understood. I was advised to take a step back from active duty to get my mental health back on track. I was then referred to the mental health teams through the NHS and then through work.

“I was grateful for the coping mechanisms I was taught by my therapist”

In January 2020 I began to see a therapist to get EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy. This helped and with time with the counsellor taught me new techniques for future issues and finally cleared me to go back to work full time.

When COVID came on scene we all thought it would pass quickly. This was obviously not the case. Workloads, approaches to policing, and dealing with incidents all changed.

During this time my home life changed too. As my fiancé is high risk I was required to isolate away from her to protect her. My rock that had helped me through all of this wasn’t able to be there as much and this definitely had an effect on me and my mental health. I was grateful for the coping mechanisms I was taught by my therapist. Thankfully with the jabs now it is easing, but after almost a year and a half much has changed.

Credit Met Police

My advice is always the same to colleagues now. If you need help, then go and ask for it. No one will think any less of you. It shows great courage to speak to someone about what’s going on in your head. I also advise them not to drink to cover the issue. It doesn’t help and actually makes things worse on the long run.

I made the difficult decision to speak to my doctor, even though it felt as it was frowned upon as I needed help. I got the help I needed and I was able to return to full duties to do a job I love and I now feel stronger and able to deal with much more since I opened up.

If the issues in this article feel familiar, we hope you’ll share it with colleagues, friends or family to help us spread awareness of the reality of life for emergency responders – and to encourage colleagues to seek help when they need it.