Police friends and family - how to support someone's mental wellbeing

A guide for friends and family of police service personnel on how to support someone's mental wellbeing.

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What is mental health and mental wellbeing?

Taryn blogs about mental health and wellbeing. What do they mean to you?

Taryn Ozorio
Posted on 24/01/2011

Paul's* story

About 10 years ago, I joined the constabulary as a police staff member, with responsibilities which included the review of paperwork within case files. These dealt with some of the most horrendous crimes imaginable: rape, murder and child abuse. These files contained the eyewitness accounts, victim photographs (including some truly horrific wounds), as well as the statements of the offender. Much of this detail was extremely harrowing, as you may imagine. 

I believe I had been selected for my role as I was of a more ‘mature’ age and had been previously employed on government work within the Ministry of Defence, which required absolute discretion. Thus my wife and immediate family, as well as friends, were used to my not being able to discuss much about my day-to-day work. I doubt whether many people were actually aware of the work which I actually did!

Over a period of time, perhaps years, my work began to prey heavily on my mind. It was not just the day-to-day job, but it was also the lack of effective emotional support from my manager.

I was just expected to ‘cope’ as it was ‘the job’. Any time I actively asked for assistance, I was simply brushed away.

My reluctance to share issues at home was compounded by personal circumstances as a close family member was in the final stages of dementia, therefore sharing my issues would have been (in my mind at least) the last thing anyone needed. Also, having been a soldier for many years I wanted to remain the strong, silent type!

Quite wrongly, I withdrew further into myself and inevitably I had a breakdown. I recall thinking at the time that it was the first time in at least 15 years that I had cried.

As a result, I visited my GP, whom I had known for a good many years. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a consequence of my military experiences which were no doubt heightened by my present work.

I took my doctor’s advice of taking a series of counselling sessions for 12 weeks. The sessions helped me reassess my outlook and put in coping strategies for the future, many of which I still use today.

What I found most effective within these sessions was the opportunity to unburden myself of my feelings in a quiet, relaxed and completely non-judgmental environment. I don’t believe I have ever been in a similar situation where I could download my most private thoughts and fears without challenge.

My advice to anyone who is the close family member to someone serving in the police service is to give them space in which they can unburden themselves without risk of offence or analysis.

Listening skills are incredibly important, and whilst we can’t tell you everything about our days (some of which you would not believe), just having that calm, uninterrupted environment really helps.

No phone, no iPad, no TV or kids in the background; just a quiet, warm and comfortable room for an hour or so will do the trick. On those occasions when I am alone with my thoughts, despite being the world’s worst artist, a colouring-in book and some pencils work for me!


*Individual’s name has been changed to protect their privacy.

This information was published in January 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

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