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Police Care UK relies on an ever-increasing team of volunteers to help them support police families across the country. Some help to raise the charity’s profile, encouraging those who need help to get in touch. Others, like Rob, have a more hands-on role.

Rob keeps in touch with people the charity cares for, making sure they are okay and supporting them to access what can be life-changing support. As a peer support volunteer, he relies on the training he has received but also draws on his own life experiences.

Rob is one of the thousands of serving and former police officers and staff who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His condition is known as complex PTSD, which in simple terms results from repeated exposure to trauma, rather than a single incident. At his lowest point, Rob considered ending his life but having finally got the right treatment and support, he has “come out the other side”. Now, he is determined to show others that it is possible to learn ways to cope, improve your quality of life and move on after the police.

“A very common comment is ‘if you haven’t had it, you’ll never get it’ and that’s what everybody says to me, that I get it, I understand,” Rob said. “And I do. I can be honest with people because I know exactly what it’s like to be there.”

Rob had achieved 28 years’ service when he was medically retired. He joined the police during the flu epidemic of the late 1980s and quickly found himself dealing with challenging incidents, including several sudden deaths. As his career went on, Rob describes being something of an ‘adrenaline junkie’; the more challenging the roles he did, the more he loved his work. But the work took its toll.

He explained: “I started having nightmares, not sleeping, sweating and thrashing about in bed. I was waking up absolutely exhausted because I hadn’t slept. I just thought that was normal. That’s what happens in the police and everyone feels like this, don’t they? I put my head down and got on with it.”

With hindsight, Rob believes he had PTSD for years before he was formerly diagnosed. He describes feeling symptoms creeping up on him, both physical and mental. He remembers starting to feel emotionless and numb. A lack of compassion became frustration which over time turned into aggression; “towards property, my house, never people,” Rob explained.

Then one day Rob was assaulted on duty; it was the fall-out from that incident that led to him seeking help, even if he didn’t understand the significance of it at the time.

“That assault was my trigger,” Rob said. “There’s something that psychologically they don’t quite get about how a trigger works because it doesn’t have to be significant. I’ve always questioned it. It was bad but I have dealt with a lot worse. I couldn’t get my head around why that had caused the illness.

“I went back to work for a year after that, and during that year, it was just like… I described it as somebody turning the volume up on a stereo. It was just blaring in my head and I started to get suicidal thoughts. That’s when I stopped and thought ‘this is off the radar now’.”

Rob’s path to appropriate treatment and support was made easier with assistance from Police Care UK. He accessed the Care Line and received trauma therapy. Several years on, Rob now uses his own experiences to help his former colleagues. His motivation for volunteering is a combination of wanting to give something back, prevent people from going through what he has been through and offering hope that life can be better.

Rob said: “I think a really simple thing that volunteers can do is break the cycle of loneliness. It is a strong theme that comes up with everyone I’ve spoken to over the years; loss of identity, loneliness, and thinking you’re the only person going through this.

“You’ve got to be in the right place to volunteer, to peer support particularly. I couldn’t have done it four years ago because I didn’t have the emotional control to deal with it. I feel privileged to be able to speak to injured cops, or ex cops, because I think they are special breed.

“The people I meet are often at the lowest point of their life. If you can intervene at that point and say ‘you’re not alone’, signpost them to care and help and give him a glimmer of hope, that’s got to be worth doing. 

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