In 2002 I joined Cleveland Police at the age of 30. I knew what I was getting myself into……didn’t I??
As police officers we are perceived to be indestructible, wear an invisible shield, and ‘cope’ with everything that is thrown at us. We haven’t got it in us, or the time, to get upset, sad, anxious, stressed, depressed and have PTSD. The incidents that we go to are just ‘part of the job’.
In 2015 my attitude towards the above paragraph began to change. It began to change for the better. As a supervisor since 2010, it was my responsibility to look after my staff - in particular when they were off work ill. I would become their ‘welfare’ officer and have responsibility to make sure they were getting all the support we could offer them. I took pride in this and always thought I did a reasonable job.
Then, late 2015, I became welfare officer for two members from my team - both on long term sick. One with work related stress and one with work related PTSD. This became one of the hardest years I have had within Cleveland Police as I saw two people, who were both fantastic officers, disintegrate right in front of me. I was angered and frustrated with my lack of knowledge around mental health and how to truly help people who were in need.
I was then fortunate to come across a new project that was being set up by National Mind called the ‘Blue Light Programme’. This programme was set up to help and assist Emergency Services personnel across the Country with their mental health and well-being. It had been finally recognised that Emergency Services personnel are more likely to have mental health issues than the general workforce, due to the traumatic incidents that they attend.
For the last year and a half I have been embedding this programme into my organisation which has included raising awareness around mental health and breaking down stigma. We now have a strong network of 65 Blue Light champions from all areas of the organisation who are there to help, support, listen to and advise their colleagues and can signpost them in the right direction. We have an anti-stigma campaign called ‘Blue on the Loo’ which reaches out to our staff and which has been recognised nationally as an innovative approach.
The Police service has nearly a 200 years culture of ‘bravado’ and ‘super heroes’ status and still has an amount of stigma attached to mental health. In a very short space of time Mind’s ‘Blue Light Programme’ has given us the passion, confidence, skills and knowledge to start breaking this stigma down and making our organisation a safer environment for our staff to talk about their well-being and mental health.