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“When you’re at the point that you think you’ve run out of options, reaching out and gaining access to people who actually understand you is so, so important.”

By anyone’s standards, traffic police officer James has been through a lot. Dealing with numerous traumatic incidents at work, the untimely death of his mother and more recently, the impact of the lockdowns on his autistic child, all took their toll.

James got to the point where he wasn’t sleeping; he would return home after a night shift shaking and unable to switch off. He describes feeling depressed and withdrawn and felt very negatively about his job. One morning, James left the house and began walking. He said:

“I didn’t say anything, I just walked out the front door. I left at nine o’clock in the morning and I was found around five or six in the evening. I’d lost all track of time; it was almost like I was on a power walk, and I just walked to old places. There was a multitude of emotions in my head, but I didn’t want to be here anymore.”

James’ wife and sister both encouraged him to get support, but he felt unable and unwilling to talk about how he was feeling. In the end, James’ supervisor stepped in and directed him to Police Care UK.

“I had always been aware of Police Care but thought it was for if you were seriously injured. You didn’t really hear about other forms of support. It was my Sergeant who picked up the baton and made the referral. I was in a dark place; I had run out of road really. I was a bit sceptical, thinking it was just going to be someone to speak to over the phone and what difference is that going to make. But I was willing to try anything, absolutely anything.”

James’ scepticism is understandable; previous counselling he received through work hadn’t been entirely helpful. Keen not to sound ungrateful, James described the approach as akin to ‘sticking a Band Aid on a bullet hole’.

“I’m not knocking the support network we get through the police service, it’s just that they are overwhelmed. They are focused on dealing with police-related issues and getting you back out on the road. The way I describe it is there’s this big bucket of emotions and it’s a case of let’s dive into that bucket, let’s drag it all out and see what happens. It just did just enough to bury some issues and get me back to work without really dealing with anything.”

“Police Care is an organisation that understands what it is like. Someone actually understands you as a police officer and understands what you go through. And it’s a whole different kind of approach.”

Following an initial call with a member of the charity’s staff, James was assessed for a course of counselling. An initial series of twelve sessions was extended to provide him with further support.

“What I was getting with Police Care was the time and space to talk,’ James explained. “We brought everything out but in a way that was so different. I could start to understand and put things into perspective, which meant I was able to go back and look at things and realise I wasn’t at fault.

Even in relation to my mum’s passing, I think I was going through life trying to right the wrongs of that scenario. Some things you can control in life, other things you can’t, and sometimes you have to just settle with that, whereas I’d been out there charging round trying to right the wrongs.”

As he reflects on past events and the progress he has made, James says he feels more positive about the future. He has returned to work doing a job he enjoys and has become an advocate for Police Care, recently encouraging a colleague to get in touch with the charity.

“As police officers, we’re the last line of defence. When everyone else is running away, we’re the ones running towards. It’s what we do, and we just battle on with it. When it comes to mental health, you don’t recognise the symptoms in yourself because you think of the extremes.

“When I got the help and got better, I looked back and it was so scary to think how ill I actually was. I hadn’t seen that I had lost my old self; what I was suffering had become normal. If my Sergeant hadn’t made that referral, maybe I wouldn’t be a police officer now. Maybe I’d be suffering from long term mental health issues.

“Things don’t go away and you’re never really better but I’m more equipped to deal with life. Police Care gave me that control back. I’ve found my old self again, I’m back enjoying my work, life is good.

“I use an expression now that after the storm there’s always the sunshine.”

Our work and home lives create challenges that we can’t always deal with alone. If your mental health is concerning you, or you’re worried about someone you work with, help is available. Visit www.policecare.org.uk for more information on our support services.


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