14 May 2018
Our Vice-Chair Ché Donald explains why supporting Mental Health Awareness Week is so important to him – professionally and personally.
Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week. This is a very poignant time for me. Mental health plays a huge part of the work I do here at the Federation on behalf of our members. But as I sit and write this it is a much more personal aspect of this issue that fills my thoughts.
You see I have first-hand experience of how devastating a mental illness can be as my own brother has schizophrenia. An illness which, if not caused, is exacerbated by his addiction to illegal drugs.
When he was at his most poorly he was experiencing paranoid delusions and even attempted to attack our own mother and sister with a knife, causing them to flee from the house in fear and panic.
The police were called that day, being tasked to not only deal with my brother in his crisis, but then my mother and sister, in what must have been one of the most distressing incidents of their lives.
This effect of this incident rippled through my life, forming a key factor in affecting my mental health at the time.
The officers who attended that day, who were not doctors or mental health practitioners, did what they needed to protect my brother, mother and sister – and they did it with professionalism and compassion.
Although this incident took place in Cape Town, South Africa a few years ago, it is very comparable to so many of the incidents occurring every day across England and Wales.
Increasingly police officers are having to deal with more and more calls where the mental health of the people involved is a key factor.
We are frequently the ones to provide help and support when other agencies are unable – or unwilling – to assist. We are the service who can’t say no when the call comes in.
Police officers can detain people for their own protection under the Mental Health Act; we assist our partner agencies with mental health assessments and we are often called to those who are in such extremis that ending their own life seems like the only option.
And the officers who attend those calls, and the heart-breaking incidents where they arrive too late to make a difference, will carry those experiences with them. They may shrug it off as they move on to the next emergency – but it is there, ingrained in their own psyche.
As part of my role as the PFEW’s lead for Police Officer Mental Health and Wellbeing, I am more than aware of the impact that being a police officer has on the health and wellbeing of those who undertake the role.
And of just how devastating it can be when officers reach breaking point because of what they have experienced just doing their jobs.
I have made it my mission to ensure that this vitally important issue is recognised and addressed and that stigma which it may have attracted in the past is removed.
We at the Federation have undertaken a large-scale piece of work with our Demand, Capacity and Welfare research which has given us evidence of the situation faced by our members, and I am currently in the process of finalising a series of recommendations connected to officer health and wellbeing which I will be announcing at our Conference later this month.
Mental health and mental ill health permeates every aspect of our lives – at work, in our social circles and for many – like me – at home too.
A lot has happened to raise awareness of this issue, and to help those who experience it, but there is a long way to go to ensure people like my brother get the help they need, and that the officers who so often pick up the pieces are protected too – not just this week but every day of the year.
So as Mental Health Awareness Week starts I would encourage you all to talk about your own experiences, or to ask a colleague how they are. It may seem like a small thing but it may just help someone in need.
* For help, information and support regarding Mental Health issues contact our Welfare Support Programme, Mind’s Blue Light Programme or the NHS , alternatively you can call the Samaritans 24 hour a day free on 116 123.
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