Two years ago, I realised that I was struggling with my mental health. I had been working away for long periods, working long hours and I was exhausted. I hadn’t realised that my resilience was dropping until I dealt with a serious incident. The incident wasn’t a Coastguard incident which is probably partly why it caught me out.
I was travelling in my marked rescue vehicle when I came across a serious road accident. Driving a blue light vehicle means that the public have an expectation that you will help. I stopped at the accident and administered what first aid I could.
Despite my efforts, and those of the other services, two of the occupants died at the scene. I had been talking to one of them for over an hour. When he was extracted from the vehicle, he went into cardiac arrest and could not be saved.
Normally at a coastguard incident, I would have had a debrief with my colleagues, we would have discussed what had happened and that would have diffused the situation. Unfortunately, on this occasion, I ended up stood in the middle of a dual carriage way, waiting for the police to take my details whilst the ambulance and fire crews completed their hot debriefs. I felt like I was completely on my own.
I gave my details to the police and headed for home. I didn’t get very far. I had to pull over as I couldn’t hold back my feelings any more.
For the next couple of weeks, I struggled with mood swings and feeling very low. Eventually, I made a call to our employee assistance programme [EAP] and asked for help. That was probably the hardest thing to do.
I spoke with a counsellor who suggested that I visit my doctor. My doctor diagnosed me with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. I was offered cognitive behavioural therapy through the NHS as well as the counselling I was able to receive from the EAP. In combination, I was able to get control of my feelings again and learn how to cope with stressful situations.
I won’t say that everything is perfect now. I still have to be careful and use coping strategies, but I am much better than I was.
Having someone to talk to when I needed it was probably the biggest help.
I didn’t want to talk about it with my family and I work on my own for the bulk of the time I spend at work. Having the ability to use the EAP was extremely helpful. They didn’t judge or give opinions - they just let me talk through the issues and feelings I had.
I learned from my experience that, as a manager, I need to be more aware of what my officers are experiencing and what impact it can have on them. I realise that when someone says “I’m fine,” it may not be entirely true and it just needs the right approach. As part of a rescue team we have a group strength but individuals can end up slipping out of that group and we need to watch for that happening.
There is lots of help out there. The hardest part is asking for it or accepting it. That help can make all the difference.