We are not wired to have to attend the post-mortem of an 18 month old child as an exhibits officer and watch as the child is skinned to reveal the full extent of the abuse they have suffered.
We are not wired to be first on scene of a three car accident which has left four of the occupants dead.
We are not wired to spend two weeks retrieving bodies and body parts from a London Tube train following a suicide bombing.
We are not wired to have to break down a door to a house to discover that four occupants have been murdered and one has committed suicide.
We are not wired to spend a week searching for missing persons in a country devastated by the Asian Tsunami no more than four days after the waves hit when the only smell in the outside air is one of death.
I could go on but the list of traumatic events police officers are expected to deal with is endless. No amount of training ever prepares you for how you will react when you deal with such incidents. As humans we are all wired differently and as such we all react differently when dealing with traumatic events. One thing is for definite is that once we have an image imprinted on our brain, once the video is recorded in our brain, the smell is embedded in our brain the memories will never leave you. I don’t care how big or brave you try to act the traumatic events stay with you for life. The major concern I have and no doubt many police officers have is how we are dealt with if those traumatic events come back to haunt us by way of PTSD. I am fully aware that not all police officers suffer from PTSD but I fear the number is very much greater than we will ever know. I say this as it is abundantly clear that police forces up and down the country do not recognise the symptoms of PTSD at an early stage resulting in officers suffering the debilitating effects of PTSD.
This is my story and my take on PTSD. PTSD can strike anyone at any time.I am 6’4″ and 16 stone and for twenty-five years of my career I was, in my own mind, unbreakable. I worked hard and I played hard and nothing frightened me. I have worked all over the world investigating terrorist atrocities and also represented my force abroad and at home at many events. I have given presentations to audiences of over 200 people in foreign countries concerning terrorist atrocities. There is absolutely no way I could repeat carrying out these duties today due to the debilitating effects of PTSD. I am not going to play ‘top trumps’ on the level of the traumatic events I have dealt with as many officers would have dealt with far worse scenarios than I have but what I will say is that if someone finds an event traumatic, it remains traumatic to them for life regardless what ever anyone else thinks. I have dealt with several of the incidents I listed at the beginning of my blog and it is these incidents that have caused me such pain. From those who have been bored enough to read my previous blogs you will well know I do not have a lot of time for the management in the police due to the way both my wife and I have been treated over the past five years. The blog I wrote on suicide was written before I became aware of exactly what PTSD is. What always gave me much concern is the way I have reacted over the past five years. Despite many therapy sessions, appointments with police psychologists and courses of drugs nothing could take away the permanent feeling of hate, of rage, away from me. I was told I was angry because of how the job had treated my wife, I was told I was depressed, I was told I was stressed, I was told I had anxiety. Despite all these assessments I still found myself full of hate and rage which ultimately led me to have serious negative thoughts about life hence my blog on suicide. I joined the police in 1986 and all bar my probation has been in the CID. Over 20 years I have spent investigating murders or terrorist offences. I have never had a ‘desk job’ and would, if its arrogant I apologise, like to consider myself as a highly competent and experienced detective. It was this experience and competency that led to me to be the first officer to be retained my unit on the new Sergeant promotion system. I do not mention this to blow my own trumpet but do so as you can get understanding that I am not some ‘desk jockey’ trapping off about PTSD but a highly experienced, respected Detective Sergeant who until the effects of PTSD struck was at the top of his game.
No doubt like most of my generation I first heard about PTSD through the song ’19’ by Paul Hardcastle. What is frightening to discover is that this song was released in 1985 yet still PTSD is a taboo subject. On its release ’19’ was banned in the US for being an anti-war song yet it is far from that. The overriding message in the song for me is PTSD. Part of the lyrics are as follows:
“Half of the Vietnam combat veterans suffered from what Psychiatrists call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Many vets complain of alienation, rage or guilt
Some succumb to suicidal thoughts
Eight to ten years after coming home eight hundred thousand men are still fighting the Vietnam War”
Listening to the song now I find it unbelievable that over thirty years later we as a nation are still ignorant to the effects of PTSD. I would not want to even try to guess how many police officers are still fighting their own individual battles having dealt with traumatic events. Having given much thought to mental health issues and in research I have carried out in order to understand my illness I have read many press reports about the rise in suicide rates in the police and how many days are lost each year due to officers being sick with stress. I am now firmly of the opinion PTSD is very much the number one factor in most police suicides and why officers are sick with stress. The problem we face is that the police do not want to admit the seriousness of the problem. Many officers are suffering from PTSD and they do not know it. This is a serious problem facing the police. I am firmly of the opinion that OH Departments up and down the country are actively encouraged not to diagnose PTSD for the fear of the consequences this may have. Ultimately this is having a serious impact on the health of police officers as the illness is then allowed to go untreated resulting in the officer becoming even more unwell. The mental state of officers who finally get diagnosed with PTSD by their respective forces is such that they are, to all intense and purposes, a zombie who are unable to live any form of normal life. This is scandalous and the problem needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
My OH file contains details of the at least three traumatic events I have dealt with. On one occasion the team I worked on had a debrief, from I believe an OH nurse, concerning how we felt and if we needed any further assistance we should contact OH. The next two events involved the completion of a questionnaire of the events I dealt with. Even at the time of completing these forms I found them to be an ‘arse’ covering exercise by the force as how can you access a persons real mental state if you cannot look into their eyes. Like all police officers I always found a way to deal with traumatic events. I have no doubt the way I coped is not in the ‘how to deal with traumatic events manual’ but it worked for me. Having found a way to deal with the traumatic events I was still left with the visual images of what I dealt with but the overriding feeling I had was one of immense pride as to the work I had carried out. That it until the PTSD trigger kicked in. I have no idea as to what the PTSD triggers are but as a PTSD sufferer I can only give you my opinion as to what triggered mine. These are not scientific results and no doubt some expert will tell me I have got it all wrong but I think police officers deserve to know what MAY happen to them if the PTSD triggers are set off. I believe my PTSD trigger was set off when I was ‘wronged’ and ‘abandoned’ by the job. When I say ‘wronged and abandoned’ I am talking about being the victim of false evidence being submitted on promotion papers. False evidence that I was clearly able to evidence as being false that was ultimately removed from the papers allowing me to be promoted. Looking back at this event that took place in 2010 and how I reacted I am convinced this was the first sign of me suffering from PTSD. I had a period off work with stress and my overriding thought at the time was ‘how dare they’. I have blogged about the next few years of my life but suffice to say I was told I was angry by a police psychiatrist because of how my wife was dealt with, was told by my Community Mental Health Team I suffered from severe depression, stress and anxiety. The police psychiatrist seemed more interested in my childhood rather than enquire what the effects of 7/7 and the Asian Tsunami could possibly have on my health. Both events are clearly noted in my OH file. Looking back this is the first clear sign that the police do not want you to suffer from PTSD. Having never suffered any health issues in my entire career surely a police psychologists should have picked up that my rage could be attributed to PTSD and not just how my wife had been treated. I had extensive one to one therapy sessions and yet still found I was full of rage and hate. The constant flashbacks and nightmares concerning traumatic events only began to badly affect me following a Misconduct Board in 2014. The unit I work on, in a concerted effort to have me kicked out the job, failed to disclose to the Board that I had received Commissioners Commendations for the work I carried out post 7/7 and post the Asian Tsunami. These commendations ultimately kept me in the police. Since this time I have constant flashbacks, nightmares, severe issues travelling on trains or tubes, severe difficulties of being in a crowded place and a heightened state of alertness when I travel out and about in public. My GP stated I was suffering from PTSD yet the police did nothing. Still at this time I thought the PTSD was me just having flashbacks to the traumatic events I had dealt with. I had no idea as to the full effects of PTSD. I tried in vain to not have to work on my unit or indeed have any contact with them but this request failed. Looking back I now know that this was me subconsciously recognising the triggers behind my illness and trying to remove the trigger. This refusal is clear indication of the stigma attached to any mental illness in the police and also shows just how far police need to shift in their treatment of those who suffer from Mental Health issues. By being refused to be moved from my unit my illness only got worse and worse.. The rage and hate became worse and I did inform my management that I could not be held responsible for any actions I may carry out in the workplace. Sadly this tale is all too familiar to police officers who suffer from a Mental Illness. I will say that more often that not those managing the sick individual are a trigger to that persons illness and as such they become more unwell with the more contact they have. Again line managers need to be aware of this but more often than not they are oblivious to this. I eventually got medically suspended after yet another assessment by a police psychologist and yet again no mention was made of PTSD. After two weeks of medical suspension I got placed sick by my line manager without my knowledge. I went though the Ill Health Retirement Process but was found to be disabled but not permanently. Not one mention was ever made of PTSD. I was told I had not exhausted all treatment available to me despite my GP being advised by NHS specialists that I had. It was during this very dark period of my life that I had a meeting with a senior Police Federation officer who said to me that as far as he was concerned I was suffering from PTSD and his biggest fear was not how I had been treated by the police but the PTSD. I found this alarming as here was a Federation officer more worried about my health than how I had been treated and so I began to research the illness more. Through contact with various charities I finally got put in touch with a charity called SafeHorizonUK.
This may sound a tad over the top but Safe Horizon saved my life. The reason for this is simply the fact that on their website is a list of the symptoms of PTSD and as I went through the list I found myself ticking off one by one symptoms I suffer from. I found this was of great help to me as finally I understood why I felt the way I did. I have attached the list contained on the SafeHorizonUK site with the kind permission of Clair. I have done this as maybe, just maybe, an officer will read this blog and finally understand why he feels the way he does, a manager may read this blog and finally understand that one of his officers is not making his illness up and a senior officer may read this blog and realise just how massive the problem is and begin to support officers who suffer.
Physical symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress may include:-
- Frequent headaches/migraine
- Muscle aches
- Lethargy/persistent tiredness or feelings of exhaustion
- Onset of Asthma
- Chest pain/tightness in the chest
- Spasms/flinching or startling
- Frequent stomach cramps
- Excessive sleep or difficulty sleeping/ irregular sleep patterns
- Loss of libido
Emotional symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress may include:
- Persistent feelings of anger
- Rage/outbursts of anger disproportionate to the situation
- Feelings of intense hatred for someone
- Feelings of anxiety, guilt, shame
- Feeling you pose a real risk of harm to others
- Feeling there is no escape from the situation
- Feeling empty or numb
Psychological symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress may include:-
- Flashbacks, intrusive memories
- Some degree of depression
- Thoughts of suicide
- Planning suicide
- Worries about mental ill health
- Worries about how others will see you, stigma around mental ill health and perceiving the self to be weak
- Hyper-vigilance and alertness on and off duty
- Constant scanning for threats on or off duty
- Distrust of others
- Overwhelming despair
Behaviour associated with Post-Traumatic Stress may include:-
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Desire to be alone
- Difficulty with social interactions
- Difficulty with crowds
- Avoidance of places, people, type of work/duty
- High and/or frequent alcohol consumption or substance use
- Scanning and hyper-vigilance on and off duty
- Rapid Eye Movement during flashbacks
- Rapid escalation in anger or reacting with anger, disproportionate to the situation
- Explosive anger
- Agitated body language
- Hard expression in the face/look of distance
- Self-incarceration in the home to safeguard others and reduce risk of offending behaviour
- Difficulty leaving the house without a trusted companion or partner
- Quickly angered or agitated by the perceived pettiness of others moans, groans and squabbles
- Family breakdown/separation from partner
- Reluctance to drive or drive distances
- Repeated checking of home security and car security (for example)
- Self-destructive/reckless behaviour (including alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, seeking out dangerous activity)
- Frequent use of pain relief
I have highlighted those symptoms I have suffered from over the past five years or so and there are 41. Despite showing 41 symptoms of PTSD my police force still refuses to admit I suffer from PTSD. In the last four years I have seen the police Doctor on at least seven occasions and the force psychiatrist on three. This is clear evidence that my force do not wish to diagnose any officer as having PTSD. Police forces up and down the country are not making correct diagnosis if officer’s PTSD illness purely and simply to save money. The forces are well aware that by diagnosing PTSD they are then open to Injury on Duty Claims and Ill Health Pension awards. This is a shocking state of affairs as money is being placed before health. As such there needs to be a fundamental change in attitude from those running the police to address this problem and if they do not I fully expect the suicide rate to increase as well as the amount of days lost to Mental Health issues. My force does not have any treatment available to PTSD sufferers. They do have counselling but this is not specialised and the waiting list is some six weeks. The treatment available to PTSD sufferers is more often than not obtained by the NHS. This, sadly for those that suffer, can take a very long time. I, for example managed to see a NHS Psychiatrist some eight months after referral. Even then I was told that they needed to treat my depression before they could address the PTSD. I have a Psychiatric appointment this week nearly a year after my referral. As most police officers are aware after a six month period off sick you are placed on half pay and then after a further six months no pay. Despite my management being fully aware of the facts they still did not support my staying on pay and neither did the Assistant Commissioner. I had no choice but to return to the work environment as I did not want to have to live on the street with my wife and young child. With no help from my unit I managed to obtain a job at my local force station. I am not fit to work as a police officer but have only been able to find a role due to friends I have at my local station. The stigma I have had to endure and still endure everyday from my unit is a disgrace. Until such time when full support is given to police officers who suffer from Mental Health issues the problem will only get worse. treatment on the NHS takes a very long time to obtain and this MUST be taken into consideration when senior officers make decisions on pay issues. It can take well over a year to just obtain the correct treatment which means that an officer may be on no pay by the time he obtains any treatment. How can this be fair. Many officers, like myself, are never afforded the best opportunity to make a recovery as we are constantly harassed regards attendance and end up not in receipt of a salary which just adds to the Mental problems we suffer from as we either end up homeless, massively in debt or having to return to work unfit.
Those that suffer from Mental Health issues such as PTSD have triggers that seriously affect how we feel. Managers and senior officers in the police are extremely uneducated when it comes to these triggers. One of my triggers is contact with my managers on my unit and despite years of asking not to be under their control I still find myself controlled by them. This has just made my condition worse. My unit is completely oblivious as to why I don’t want to deal with them but they just see me as a trouble maker. Perfect example of the stigma I have to endure. Until such time as the managers in the police are educated as to the seriousness of PTSD officers like myself will continue to be harassed and victimised. I have no doubt that the trigger for many PTSD sufferers is any dealings with the police which makes it even harder for the officer to be able to even attempt any recovery. With suitable training for managers and senior officers many PTSD sufferers will be able to at least attempt to recover.
I would hazard a guess that if a police officer happened to break a leg whilst arresting a violent prisoner they would never be in a position that they were placed on half pay. They would receive the full support of their management at all times of the recovery process and be afforded the best available treatment the police are able to provide. The officer no doubt would be fully supported by his management in the Ill Health Retirement Process if his injuries were such that he was permanently disabled. In this scenario I would say that there is a near 100% chance of the officer being supported throughout the process. Why is PTSD any different. Most PTSD sufferers are left to fend for themselves with no support whatsoever making their mental condition worse by the day. Whilst the figure regards support in the breaking of the leg scenario is 100% support I would take a guess the figure for PTSD sufferers is nearer 0%
PTSD sufferers do not need to be told suck it up and drive on, they do not need to be told to take some drugs as it will relieve the pain, they do not need to be asked questions about childhood, about their parents and themselves. They need the full support of management and colleagues. They need the support of those that understand the illness. They need to know that management understand that the ‘police’ itself can be a trigger for their illness. They need to know that people understand that just being in a police building is a trigger for the illness. They need to know that OH/HR departments will support them all the way. They need to know that above all else they will receive the full support of the police service as after all being a police officer is the only reason as to why they suffer from PTSD. It is frankly impossible to know how horrible the illness is unless you have suffered. For anyone who does not suffer from PTSD to tell you either ‘its nothing’ or ‘I know how you feel’ is nothing more than an insult and stigma at its very best.
PTSD is serious problem within the 999 family as well as our armed forces. In order to have a fully effective 999 service and armed force the country also needs to understand that this effectiveness comes at a price. Individuals will suffer from PTSD by delivering an effective service and as such they deserve the full support of the Government in any recovery programme that works for them. They do not deserve to be cast aside as some lazy malingerer by their respective management. They do not deserve to be left alone to fight what is a truly awful illness. No pledge or management sound bite will solve the problem in any shape or form. The only solution is for the police (and other 999 agencies) to acknowledge the seriousness of the problem and afford those that suffer their full support. This support will come at a high cost but if we as a country want an effective 999 service it is a price that we have to pay.
The major concern I have is just how many police officers are fighting their own Vietnam War………