Priority for chiefs should be mental health and wellbeing of officers

16 May 2017

Police chiefs have been encouraged to spend more money on protecting the wellbeing of their officers by a medically retired ex-officer.

Ed Simpson, a former sergeant from North Yorkshire, told our annual conference today about the turmoil he went through before his depression was identified.  Mr Simpson, 41, admitted he didn’t realise he was ill for several years, feeling instead that he was bad at his job and that others around him were feeling the same but simply coping better.

“Investment is needed in policing because you can’t have single crewing, not just for safety but for being able to talk to colleagues properly,” he said. “The number one priority for chiefs should be mental health and wellbeing of officers and staff.

“To think you want to kill yourself is the worst feeling. You’re not thinking rationally, a horrible low point to be. Too many cops end up as a statistic. It’s too many. We’re not talking about it. You need to make sure it’s on the agenda."

He highlighted an alarming statistic - in 2013, 29 police officers committed suicide - suggesting that if 29 officers were killed on duty in one year, more would be done.

Mr Simpson tracks his illness back to his work as a family liaison officer (FLO), and one particular incident where his 'shield' protecting him fell apart.  “The more I did it, the stronger the invisible shield became. I dealt with the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl, bashed over the head with a rock.  I stood over her body for 10 hours, water off a duck’s back – because that’s what officers do.

“The job that did it was a 17-year-old lad that had been killed in a car accident. I went to the mortuary with his parents and there wasn’t a mark on his body. When we walked in, the mother screamed, a scream like I’d never heard before. It was like an opera singer hitting that high note and shattering the glass.  I felt grief, horror, and that changed me forever.

“I didn’t understand how I could be depressed because I wasn’t sad.  I felt like the service I’d always wanted to be in had abandoned me. Individuals didn’t, but the police service did."

After six months on sick leave Ed was put on half pay. "I  found out on the way to the hospital for my son to be born - and in the nappy aisle of Tesco I fell out of love with the police.  I felt rubbish and weak – I didn’t even know which nappies I could afford for my newborn son."

Ed remembers a brief mental health session where he was given a stress ball, but so much more needs to be done, and equal measure should be given to both mental health support and protective equipment.

Ed's story echoes our calls for better mental health support for officers.

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