Monday, 23 January 2017

Meeting the Black Dog

If ever there were a contrast then the last three days have shown me one. I've felt the blackest of the black stages of depression through to the light contented feeling that I currently have. So precious is the feeling that I am currently experiencing, that I have switched off the television for fear of seeing something that may taint my mood! I am not going to touch my emails or answer the phone until the school run forces me back to reality. For the here and now I am going to enjoy a buoyant mood.

It is much like walking a tight rope, I am confident and strong. Perfectly balanced, however it wouldn't take much to make me wobble and fall, so with that in mind I wanted to write whilst I feel positive and hopeful.

I think the cop in me is constantly looking for a solution to problems. Instead of comforting my daughter I'm always giving her strategies to solve the issue when all she may really want is a cuddle. Cops solve peoples problems and we expect to use the same tools on our families and emotions. We find it frustrating if not down right confusing when the same strategies fail.

I cannot help but think I can 'solve' depression which is essentially tosh as it is an illness much like diabetes or cancer. You can't snap out of those any more than you can depression.

So as a result of my 'problem solving' approach I find myself reflecting what it was that I wanted or needed from the police over the last two years since my diagnosed and disclosed depression that I didn't have?

Now support comes in various guises doesn't it? When you ask someone you know after they've been ill, "How are you?" what are you really expecting to hear? I am positive our British culture means we should accept the "How are you?" solely as someone being polite and showing an interest in you. They do not actually want to know the ins and outs of your illness. What they expect back is a 'Fine thank-you" before you move on to the weather or sport or soap operas. Our coded British conversations devoid of emotional connections other than on a superficial level. Try it out and I bet you when someone starts to actually tell you how they are, you'll switch off, raise your internal eye brows and then cut them short. We are a nation of stunted emotions!

Now that does not bode well for the person suffering with depression and anxiety because emotions are front and centre of every darned day whether you want them to be or not. Some days are good and some are bad, some days you want to cry, some days you want to lark around and have fun but ignoring these emotions and maintaining a stiff British upper lip will not wash.

  • Talking therapy when you can actually discuss 'emotions' would have helped.
  • Talking to like minded people would have helped.
  • A buddy up scheme, would have helped.
  • An hour of weekly counselling in job time, at job expense would have helped.
  • Someone drawing up a coping strategy, identifying triggers, would have helped.

Instead the stigma prevents these things happening. The coded canteen culture when discussing people being off sick with stress is inevitably followed up with some form of skiver comment and there is a sad inevitably to that in my experience. I've done it, haven't you?

Yes there are people that may swing the lead however you never ever know what someone is going through. Depression is not a rash. It isn't worn as a badge so if you consider changing one thing, never automatically assume someone who is off sick with stress is a skiver. You cannot tell if someone suffers with depression unless you ask or they share. Often the nosiest, funniest people can be suffering the most. Robin Williams was a prime example of that.

I would have liked to have become part of a buddy scheme. A group of people, well police officers and police staff who suffer with mental health illnesses who could perhaps initially meet each other through an online/force chat room scenario. I personally wouldn't be able to meet someone face to face or go to a group session straight off the bat but if I built up trust through anonymous chat eventually followed at your own pace by a meeting or group meetings in job time, that would have helped.

I also think each force needs it's own counsellor. On the books, paid for, that automatically sees officers that have dealt with certain types of incident or who those who work in certain departments plus all those of us who need psychological support. I'm pretty certain it would pay for itself fairly quickly by keeping officers mentally healthy and fit for duty. Using outside agencies for counselling services, numbering the amount of qualifying sessions you are entitled to even before you've got their or assessed, expecting you the depressive/anxious person to arrange/book these terrifying sessions when you A/ hate phones B/hate new environments C/avoid counselling at all costs are all barriers to success. Force counsellors are the way forward boss people out there.

As it was I had a back to work interview with my line manager followed up with a risk assessment?! He might as well of had a placard with,

"You're a nutter we're covering our arses"

on the wall behind him. The boss completing the risk assessment asked me about my 'triggers' a fair and pertinent question. However I made the mistake of being honest. Certain office idiots had been  fairly brutal with their belittling and put downs. Explaining this to the boss though as one of my triggers met with a derisive snort immediately followed by him concurring with them and putting me down himself! Of course I then clammed up  just nodding and saying yes or no where necessary.
Apparently the risk assessment was due to be reviewed regularly but it wasn't and I didn't push it as that initial session had become a 'trigger' in itself!! But that's not the point I did need support and I didn't get it.

I battled on in the same department for two years,  a negative, counter productive environment. I started talking about my 'madness' openly and loudly out of sheer bloody mindedness as acknowledging my struggles publicly helped me deal with my daily ups and downs.

Not long before I fell ill again just before this Christmas I had two separate conversations with my two line managers. they job share. Suffice it to say that both expressed amazement that I was still suffering with depression?!

"But that was two years ago"

one said! Their little faces quite the picture when I reminded them that I was medicated for my depression and anxiety and had been throughout the last two years. I didn't miss the shock and disappointment on their faces either.

So in the absence of a force counsellor talk to your staff and colleagues. Ask them about their triggers, especially people with anxiety.

As an example - I hate telephones, talking on them makes me hyper ventilate, my heart races. They are a necessary evil but just recognising I may need some time to work myself up to a telephone call in itself would be helpful.

My message to police managers, if you have staff that suffer with depression or anxiety, talk to them about it, discuss their triggers with them and maybe even help them to draw up a coping strategy for dealing with those triggers. It's far easier if someone acknowledges the black dog in the room.


  1. I've been struggling to think of how to comment on your post (but not in a bad way, honestly!).
    I wanted to say how brave you are, but didn't want to sound patronising.
    I wanted to tell you that I could offer my help, but didn't want to sound condescending.
    So all I'll say a serving officer who hasn't suffered from mental ill health but has a lot of experiences in dealing with others, I think your ideas are great, but I agree that we are struggling to break down that stigma from colleagues and management alike.
    Thanks to people like you we will hopefully continue to move forward and bring mental health on par with physical health.

  2. Hi, I found your blog today, through a twitter re-tweet - it rang very true. I'm going through this at the moment, however our force does have OH dept which was really helpful for me. Working in public protection, we all had bi-annual sessions which helped build the rapport with the counsellor for when I needed them. Also, my line managers were really supportive. However, having changed roles I've found my new managers are struggling to understand about MH and triggers that lead to a period of lowness and being off from work. im having to educate them! Anyway, your blog rings very true, thank you for sharing. Like you, I tell colleagues why I've been off or what i suffer with, if I can help break down the stigma and guide others to help (through blue light, for example) perhaps things will get better.