We need to be aware of our own mental health
Until you experience working in the police force yourself, it can be very hard to really understand the impact of a job that deals with such emotional life events.
Until you experience working in the police force yourself, it can be very hard to really understand the impact of a job that deals with such emotional life events. With demanding shifts and long tours of duty, it can be exhausting and isolating. Add to that the amount of violence and death you deal with day in and day out, and how many times your adrenaline is triggered and experience fight or flight, it is no wonder we tend to exist in a hyper vigilant state and struggle to deal with traumatic experiences in our personal lives.
I joined the police when I was 20 and had a very steep learning curve. I married and divorced young, and without really realising it was quite hardened by all the events both at work and personally. I then had a late termination and lost my dad shortly after.
“These two events seem to tip me over the edge of what I could manage mentally and I felt quite numb.”
It was a very difficult couple of years where despite a loving family, great colleagues and a good social life I felt quite alone and my whole inside felt empty and disconnected. Up until that point I had always thought it was a case of pulling yourself together but I needed to grieve and feel everything – there was no longer an option to box it up and put it away or laugh it off. It was a very difficult time, but has given me far more empathy for others and the challenges of mental health in general. My mental health was certainly something I hadn’t even acknowledged up until that point.
“I was fortunate that I had work to keep my behaviour constructive.”
I buried myself in work and successfully attained my Sergeants at this time. I was fortunate that I had work to keep my behaviour constructive and maintain a routine, and I was very grateful for two of my line managers that really made a difference. They visited me whilst I was off from work sick and didn’t judge me or make me feel any less valued. They were also very supportive on my return and have again hugely shaped for me the difference we can make to each other at these difficult times.
However, more could and should have been done – I strongly feel that mental health supervision should be mandatory for officers and confidential so that the impact of trauma and violence can be discussed and symptoms can be picked up at the early stages.
“Police officers are five times more likely to suffer PTSD”
At present, the awareness of the impact of dealing with such a level of trauma continually is little researched. We know police officers are five times more likely to suffer from PTSD and yet especially in some of the most demanding roles there is still a stigma about talking about mental health. We need those in the emergency services to be much more self-aware regarding their own mental health and regular mental health checks. As officers, we have regular officer safety training to ensure we can protect ourselves physically. My vision is that one day we will have regular personal mental health safety training, to protect our mental health and give us time to diffuse.
I am currently in a HQ role which I find hugely satisfying, with a close supportive team and boss who is genuinely driven to deliver well for the public and staff. It is a really positive and caring environment. In my role I have a lot of autonomy and have been able to orchestrate change for the good of officer wellbeing. My position also allows me to ensure a more supportive response as an organisation when staff are experiencing challenges or difficulties. I am passionate about the impact of policing on staff and my role allows me to take positive action to counter this.
“It is an exciting time for wellbeing and policing”
We are becoming far more aware of the need for trauma informed policing both for the public and for the staff, so it is an exciting time for wellbeing and policing. I love my job even on the tough days and do thrive with a level of stress and enjoy the operational fast paced world that is front line policing. It’s a hugely privileged role and it has certainly hugely shaped who I am today.
If you are a leader in the police force, take time to get to know your staff, ask them in your one to ones how they manage their own mental health and if you can support them in any way. I still use Mind’s wellness action plans so staff can take control of the conversation with me.
Also start team conversations about mental health and offer up what you do to help yourself to reduce stigma, encourage speakers to come and share their lived experiences which can help to break down barriers and increase understanding. Make sure you challenge unhelpful language – it sets a tone and will allow people to feel safe.
And if you are struggling personally, please talk to someone – your GP, the Samaritans or a colleague. The most courageous thing you can do is ask for help and it will improve. It is a big step but a very important one to take to help yourself. And if you aren’t struggling, ask you colleagues if they are okay – and if they just reply “yeah good thanks”, ask them again!