When Linda, a former Detective Chief Inspector, was diagnosed with PTSD she realised how little peer support there was available for officers facing mental health issues. Now, she’s training to become a Police Care UK support volunteer so she can use her experiences to help others.
Last year, after more than 28 years’ police service, Linda was medically retired. A career in public protection roles saw Linda deal with what she describes as “the nasty stuff of life”. While she doesn’t feel the cases caused her issues at the time, she does recognise the ‘drip, drip, drip’ effect which she believes “most officers don't even realise is happening.”
It was a series of incidents more recently and much closer to home that led Linda to seek support for her mental health. In a matter of months, she lost three people she was very close to, including one in a car accident that happened on her area while she was on duty. “It was trauma after trauma after trauma,” Linda explained. “Everyone's got their limit, whatever that is, and it might be different for different people. For me, my brain just said: ‘I can't deal with any more trauma, that's it, I'm shutting down’.
“I had horrendous nightmares. I had panic attacks, I couldn't breathe, and I couldn't drive for months; I just thought the lorries were going to crash into me.”
The Force Occupational Health Unit referred Linda for counselling and EDMR, a technique used to relieve psychological stress, but treatment led ultimately to a recommendation of medical retirement. “I went see the force psychologist after being off sick for a long time,” Linda explained. “She said she couldn’t let me go back to operational policing because I’d had far too much trauma in a very short space of time. So that was career over for a DCI, really.
“I had just started on my application to Superintendent – a career-long goal - so I had another trauma; my operational role, my life, nearly 30 years of dedication had gone.”
As a senior officer and very visible District Commander, Linda found herself walking a tightrope between wanting to get the support and help that she needed personally, while also trying to be a role model for others who felt they were struggling. Linda explained: “What happened to me was very public. My boss was very supportive and there was support from my team, but my PA was the woman who kept me going. This is really key to why I now want to go back and help other people. “One minute you're the person that people look up to, and the next minute, you're not. I just wish I'd had somebody to hold my hand, because it's a very, very lonely place to be in. My poor PA was wonderful, but it wasn't her job.”
Feeling like she didn’t have anyone to talk to who truly understood what she was going through has motivated Linda to apply to become a Police Care UK veteran peer support volunteer. She will be trained to assist officers who are going through the ill-health retirement process and signpost them to the most appropriate sources of support.
Alongside volunteering, Linda intends to participate in the charity’s new service for police veterans looking to set up their own business after leaving the service. She is keen to work with her husband, a talented wildlife photographer, when he retires from the police service. Linda is also involved with Team Police, an organisation which helps Police Sport UK to attract sponsors and raise funds.
“Things have changed completely,” Linda said. “Some mornings I get up, I've had a horrific night, and I can't do anything. I have to listen to my body and just go and curl up with the TV. I wouldn't have let myself do that years ago, but I know I have to on certain days because that's all I can do. I’m not working all the hours God sends as I did for years and years. I’m very much 'take it a day at a time now' and that's okay because it's a bit of a cliche, but it's true: life changing incidents change everything, and it really is okay not to be okay."
If Linda’s story resonates with you and you would like to talk to someone about what’s happening in your life, please get in touch with us.