Times have changed - so let's talk about mental health
Times have changed when it comes to talking about mental health.
When I had my own mental health problems, just over a decade ago, I would not have been able to stand up in front of a roomful of police officers and speak openly about it.
As recently as the mid-2000s, it was still a taboo subject.
Something that happened to ‘weak people’. Something you just didn’t talk about.
Now, thankfully, it seems society has moved on. Perhaps thanks to campaigns like ‘Time To Talk’ and the good work being done by charities, perhaps thanks to more responsible coverage in the media, or perhaps down to the likes of Princes William and Harry speaking out, we now have a much more grown-up attitude towards mental health issues.
The same is true in policing. The referrals we have seen in Dorset Police from officers and staff asking for counselling and other forms of support have skyrocketed in the last few years. That means people are starting to talk openly and, even more importantly, managers are recognising the role they play in getting their staff the help and support they need.
The fact that this transformation has taken place in the policing world, which was for too long mired in ‘macho’ assumptions that people didn’t open up about their problems, speaks volumes about how far we have come.
Being a police officer is physically and mentally demanding. You have to deal with things most other people would choose to walk away from. The pride in being able to do this, and the satisfaction you get from helping people in the community, is immense, but the stress of dealing with constant trauma can build up - and sometimes just becomes too much.
I should know. When I had my own crisis, I felt confused and angry. The last thing I wanted to do was to talk to anyone about it. I stared at a wall for a week but eventually went to see my GP and got some help.
Eventually, I did start talking to people – medical professionals I didn’t know, and I went through some fairly intense therapy. It’s a sad fact that, in these situations, it is often far easier to talk to people you don’t know than to your own loved ones.
I have developed my own coping mechanisms. I love living in the countryside and I love spending time with my animals – my dogs and my chickens – which I find incredibly therapeutic.
But, most importantly of all, I have come to realise that it is OK to talk about my problems.
If you break your arm, you go to a doctor to get it fixed. If you break your mind – as many of us will do in our lives – you should be able to seek help in just the same way.
Please, if you find yourself struggling to cope the first step is to talk about it. If you can’t talk to your friends and family, there is still help available out there for you – trust me I know!
And try to look out for each other. If your friend’s acting differently, they might say they’re fine when they’re not – so ask twice.
More information about mental health, and the support available, can be found on the Time To Change website.