Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Open Letter to Police Supervisors - Mental Health

Dear Sir / Ma'am,

I write this open letter to the supervisors of the police service.

I am a police sergeant with 28 years service. I have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and Fibromyalgia. In the last two years I have reported sick for two extended periods as a result of this diagnosis. As a tool for self reflection, but also as a means of helping others I have been writing a blog detailing my experiences and describing the struggles I have with my mental health.

This process has led to me making contact with numerous fellow officers and sufferers who are spread out over many force areas. They have shared their local experiences of suffering with mental health to me and without exception they have described how let down they feel, they have been vilified, unsupported some have even told me they cannot face telling anybody at work at all due to the perceived climate of mistrust and stigma.

These officers have left me to wanting to ask you some pertinent questions. They won't make me popular with you, they won't endear me to anybody but they might just prick at your conscience enough to consider making some changes.

As a police officer with senior rank in the police service do you feel you have a reasonable knowledge of mental illness? Not so much in regards of our service users but in respect of us the service providers, i.e. your staff?

For instance if someone asked you to describe the symptoms of depression, anxiety or PTSD to your peers, could you? Would you recognise these symptoms in a colleague I wonder?

If you believe you do have this knowledge and understanding of mental illnesses, would you consider you are also able to empathise with these officers/staff who are suffering from mental health issues?

Does your force support officers / staff who voluntarily come forward to notify their supervisors that they are suffering with mental illness if they do not need to take sick leave?

Have you put policies and procedures in place to ensure officers / staff are protected from stigma and career blighting hostilities' that exist in the police service of today?

If an officer or staff member who is at this very moment struggling with their mental health and is in need of support and guidance in your force area who would be there to assist them?

If an officer under your command rang in sick today and cited depression and/or anxiety what would your force welfare support entail?

Are you signed up with MIND and their Blue Light campaign? Are you aware of the charities nationally reaching out to mentally ill police officers?

Do you have a buddy scheme, ready access to counselling services or advice leaflets/apps for staff?

If you are of a rank above constable within the police service and you manage staff, and you truthfully hand on heart were to swear an oath on somebody you love dearly and then answer these questions, would you be content for your answers to be published openly for your staff to read? Think about that a minute... pure honesty...publicly?

28 years ago when I joined the police service, the place female officers held within the service was wholeheartedly different from today. Attitudes had to change, people were re-educated. If many high ranking officers had been asked a similar set of questions relating to female police officers back in the 'old days' I am fairly confident their answers if read out today, would be perceived as sexist, draconian and quite probably subject to the Standards of Professional Behaviour.

Today, in the here and now, the police service must face another battle and this time over mental health issues. The service has to take a long hard look at the way the vast proportion of  police officers / staff are being dealt with and discriminated against if they suffer from any mental health illnesses.

In these times of cuts backs, falling staff numbers, media pressures and harsh criticisms which come our way on frankly daily basis, which with the best will in the world will always feel personal then you add to that mix our historic and unhealthy dose of existing PTSD plus further trauma laden workloads the numbers of police officers suffering from mental health illnesses is only going to increase and let me tell you from where I am sitting it is pretty damn high already.

If you answered that you knew what mental illness was, and could recognise it in a colleague would you also understand what it is a sufferer needs from you as a result? Because knowing, understanding and then in turn empathising are all poles apart from each other, all requiring enhanced skill sets.

Do you know what policies and procedures exist in your force for officers/staff suffering from mental health illnesses, are there any at all? What support could you direct a sufferer to if necessary? What does your welfare department do for people suffering with depression and anxiety?

So far in seven weeks, I have had £30 of M&S vouchers sent to me from our welfare fund in an envelope with the standard typed letter. I have not had any contact from a person in the welfare department offering me support.
I was summonsed within two weeks to occupational health where as mentioned in previous blog I was asked to explain my depression whilst crying solidly for an hour. I was told everything I said was going to be divulged to my supervisors. I was told wearing make-up showed I wasn't that depressed! I saw a nurse/practitioner who is not specifically mentally health trained and I am seeing her again tomorrow. I also have a case conference with HR, my supervision, welfare and my fed rep on Thursday to discuss my sickness absence. (stand-by for a blast of hot air on Friday covering both!)

There are many of you out there that tut and roll your eyes at the mention of someone suffering with stress or depression. I have watched you, I have listened to you and your derogatory, belittling comments. I have worked for you whilst you blindly ignore my mental health. I have waited patiently for some form of peer support group to be launched, I have expected some interaction with Mind's Blue Light campaign. I am still waiting, whilst us sufferers are shunned, we are put in the too difficult category and clearly we are not believed by some senior officers.

For if you are a non believer in Mental Health and you don't 'get it' or even want to try and 'get it' and I say to you that I suffer with my mental health, you cannot possibly believe that I am ill can you? You must therefore think when I am signed off sick that I am actually swinging the lead, skiving, having a paid holiday? You certainly cannot think that I am going through hell and clinging on to my sanity by a tiny thread.

Officers recount to me senior officers ensuring that they lose their specialist posts, senior officers blindly moving sufferers from their sections/departments or even off into a broom cupboard. Some senior officers ignore officers/sufferers who have identified in themselves a need for some respite in order to remain healthy. It takes bottle and bravery to ask to move out of a traumatic role either temporarily or permanently so why would you leave them high and dry, out on a limb getting more poorly until eventually they do end up reporting sick? Is this any way to motivate and support your staff when they are ill? Clearly not which brings me back to my original point, this is how skivers and lead swingers are punished, held accountable isn't it?

Therefore it is clear that you do not think these officers are ill, you do not believe they are suffering desperately and in need of support do you?

Shame on you, the very foundations of our service was firmly rooted in us all belonging to a police family, with shared ideals and values, yet this seems a fact readily ignored if not glossed over. 

Sir/Ma'am, when it comes to mentally ill police officers/staff, are you and the police family who follow your guidance really quite happy to leave us out here in the cold, to walk away from us, to turn your backs on us,  to pretend 'our sort' don't exist for fear of being tainted by our demons I wonder?

The bottom line is officers/staff are suffering in silence for fear of the retribution they will face for acknowledging they have a mental illness, if they do open up they suffer the consequences of at best a total lack of understanding/empathy and at worst non-belief and being labelled accordingly. The stigma has to end and only the officers of your rank and standing can make that happen.

I do not profess to have all the answers but I can and do recognise the problems at hand in regards of the police service and its numerous suffering police officers, do you?

It is one thing to talk the talk, management speak if you like, however it is an entirely different thing altogether to walk the walk. Can you help change the service, can you help end the stigma?

Let's see some real change please?

Yours Sincerely

A Depressed, Anxious, Sergeant from a force near you.

Friday, 17 February 2017


So a week has passed since my last blog and I thought it worth bringing the situation up to date if only for my own sanity and remembrance in the days that follow.

Plus a lot of you will only know me for discussing depression and anxiety and I wanted to clarify how this recent diagnosis fits into my jigsaw puzzle.

On Monday I had an appointment to see a rheumatologist as I had happened to mention upon my last GP visit to get signed off with depression/anxiety about my aching joints and some of my other symptoms. This was done as an aside to and diversion away from discussing my depression at the time! I have said before on previous blogs that discussing my madness is a horrid experience that makes me squirm in my seat, I feel like I need to fold myself in on myself to escape from the overwhelming waves of embarrassment. It couldn't be any worse if I was sat there naked!

I digress, ... again!

Anyway for the past two years I have suffered with what can only be described as a plethora of physical symptoms. After the first few months they left my GP sat looking at me with a blank expression on his face if I dared mention anything more to him.  He glazed over with boredom at my repeated moaning after numerous dead end consultant appointments!! It did start to look like I was a hypochondriac even to myself!

Two years ago he had taken me seriously initially packing me off in an ambulance thinking I had a subarachnoid bleed after I had repeatedly complained of horrific headaches and sensitivity to light.   A day in hospital, a CT scan and a lumbar puncture all discounted any illness and I got the feeling I had a back mark placed against my name as a malingerer.

Then he referred me to a neurologist to see if he could help with my headaches So I waited months for an appointment then on the day in question, he, the consultant, told me I was on too much medication and that was why I was having headaches. sadly I had a Victor Meldrew type reaction to this news

'I don't believe it'

I may have said words to that effect, but my anxiety kicked in and I cried tears of utter frustration then upped and left leaving him opening and closing his mouth like goldfish!

Then there was another visit to the force FMO when he noticed a lump in my neck, so back to the GP I went. X-Rays and an ultra sound later I'm told I do have cervical spondylitis in my neck to match my bulging discs at L4 & L5 in my back but its just one of those things that comes with age.

Then there were the episodes of my heart racing and me getting all hot and sweaty for no apparent reason. Back I went. Blood tests revealed a lack of iron but no hormone imbalances or menopausal indicators.

My eyes got very dry and itchy and thinking I had an eye infection, off I went. 'No all normal' the GP says. Urghh!

I happened to mention at a regular medication consultation that my weight was ballooning and despite trying all the normal tricks to drop some weight nothing was shifting. We discussed the surgery I had previously had for a hiatal hernia some ten years before, the fact I was experiencing feelings of nausea fairly regularly and he wondered perhaps if the acid reflux might be affecting my digestion so once AGAIN off I went to another consultant. The acid was in fact burning my oesophagus a little and I was put back on Omeprazole.

Then there was the urge to go to  he toilet which started getting very urgent and much too frequent. So off I toddled to the GP. A wee dip did show an infection up initially but subsequent visits for the same thing revealed nothing.

By now I feeling like a marked woman, paranoia probably but to have had so many things going on and to mostly keep getting knocked back that they were nonsense I myself was even beginning to think I was creating these things just to cover up for my depression and anxiety. I knew how much a physical problem would have eased my psychological suffering, to have something without stigma to cling on to, that would explain why I was feeling so lousy would have been great. So the more I reflected the more I thought all the things I was experiencing must be manifestations of my madness so I should stop discussing them.

I sensed other people thought that too, so I mostly clammed up keeping quiet about the majority of my physical  troubles. Although the fatigue was difficult to cover up,  when you're arriving at work at 0900 hours knackered, yawning, sitting in front of a computer struggling to keep my eyes open people tend to notice. I struggled with fatigue really badly and I am not sure how I never crashed or fell asleep driving home.

Anyways, other than that for two years I put up with the horrific migraine strength headaches, the dry eye problems, bad sleep experiences constantly, dizziness, poor memory, anxiety, depression, weight gain, flu like symptoms, multiple joint pain and stiffness, nausea, urination problems, a clunking jaw, dysmenorrhea like nothing I had ever felt before.

Just feeling permanently like crap yet all the time whilst wholly blaming my anxiety and depression,  keeping quiet about the rest for fear of sounding stupid or obsessed or worse even madder!

Finally my hands started to swell and ache too and this was the final straw for me as I could barely type, I couldn't manage simple motor functions and life was getting embarrassing not even feeling confident to hold a full mug of drink fearing I would drop it. So it was this that made me pluck up the courage to speak to the GP again after months of keeping quiet about everything except the depression.

He referred me!! AGAIN!!

So that was what happened this Monday, I went to my rheumatology appointment. It was like breathing fresh air after being confined in a low oxygen environment for a long time. The relief was palpable as she asked me about all the things I had felt it necessary not to talk about for so long.

I could admit to her that I forget where I park my car! That my eyes crust up every few hours and need bathing, that I can barely walk up hills, or get into the bath for the stiffness in my joints. I could tell her about getting stuck in a field because my stupid body couldn't climb over a small five bar fence and that I lie awake at night aching all over. Relief on so many levels.

She examined me too, an ancient skill it would seem these days as few of the medics have actually dared to lay hands on me. Not once in two years as my GP touched me, well other than for a BP check!

When she reached her conclusion I was both relieved and a little apprehensive all at the same time.


She explained that I was a classic case, I ticked 16/18 boxed needed for a diagnosis. It was like playing fibromyalgia bingo marking off all my symptoms! Finally I felt vindicated, finally I knew it wasn't all down to the depression and anxiety. Finally I knew it wasn't all the madness!

There is still along road to travel, that I know. My pain needs addressing as I have put up with it for so long and there is no cure, so it's listed as a chronic disorder. Where that leaves me for the future as a police officer I do not know.

With my back/disc issues, my stomach problems, my depression/anxiety and now this I feel pretty useless. I was lost enough mentally but now I have had it confirmed I'm physically malfunctioning on so many levels it feels like a huge undertaking to get myself anywhere fit enough to get back to work.

My depression and anxiety are still prevalent, clearly they are not going to evaporate, but knowing all this pain is not in my head too has helped me a lot. I feel less burdened, less troubled in some ways.

I am still driven to try and change the way serving officers are treated who admit to suffering with depression or any mental illness. I have had so many wonderful people contact me since I started blabbing about my troubles, I have been overwhelmed with support and the tales of 'me too'.

BUT and it is a big BUT, listen up command team members, 75% of the serving officers contacting me and believe me I have had many, do so by a DM on twitter. Why are they happy to talk to me openly? Well they are only confident to do so because twitter is anonymous. Take that bosses. You have numerous officers out there suffering who do not say a word,

... yet ...

for the day will come when they can tread the thin blue line no longer for the burden of their troubles will become too heavy.

They are scared to talk because of the stigma  against MH in the police service, because of the fear of losing their roles, for fear of being marked as unsuitable for future promotion or specialisms for fear of losing themselves.

I do not know them, they do not know me yet they admit these things to me,  they have not told their forces or their supervision, some haven't even told their loved ones, some are even thinking of leaving the service altogether as opposed to telling anyone?

Seriously? Are you content with that? Things are seriously messed up out there on the ground if someone would rather walk away from their career as opposed to telling someone that they are suffering with depression?

I do think mental health is a bit like a religion, you either 'get it' or you don't. I have referred to people who don't 'get it' before in previous blogs as non believers and I truly think (know) that there are many in positions of rank out there.

They, much like I cannot get my head around GOD, cannot get theirs around MH.
People believing in something they have never seen/cannot prove means that I have chosen to be non religious, however non believers feel the same way about MH, they simply do not believe it is a reality.

I have a very good friend who supported me two years ago when I was poorly. Back then she was a non believer, she would say things like, 'look on the bright side' or 'I'll be there to help it'll be fine' or 'pull yourself together' All were said with love but came from a view point of a non believer. Now she is in a relationship with a MH sufferer and her whole demeanour towards my mental health has changed. She no longer thinks I can just snap out of it, she no longer tells me that I am a confident capable woman so therefore get on with it. But the point I make is that it takes a significant experience to change a non believer into a believer it is not something you can just decide to change.

I'm not sure where that leaves us but I do feel that much as sexism was outlawed overtly, despite the fact that sexist pigs do still roam the corridors, at least they have to do so now subversively, do it on the QT.  I think Mental Health will have to be treated the same way. Add it to the Standards of Professional Behaviour as a perquisite for professionals in a professional police service.

It has to be the way forward and it has to be front, centre and bang in the middle of discussions with new recruits throughout their training then like sexism has changed so will attitudes to mental health.

Bring back force counsellors, make them a yearly necessity, plus refer officers who have dealt with certain incident types to them. Bobs your uncle, fannies your aunt... it is somewhere to start.

Give returning officers from MH illnesses a buddy, much like addicts get help through life. A sponsor, someone who does 'get it' to guide them and chat regularly.

These things need to happen to see change...in my humble opinion because...

Mental Health Matters

Friday, 10 February 2017

Big Steps Taken?

Life bumbles on, it's passing me by very quickly at the moment but I guess I'm not really paying it much attention to be honest.

A school run here, a club run there, a date run today (for daughter not me)

I'm just ferrying my daughter about and that's about as far as I am getting. I am avoiding going to the shops, or the petrol station, the telephone is definitely poisonous and I've even  avoided the chemist despite needing to fill a prescription! I even had to ask a dear friend to pay a bill for me over the telephone this week, as I just couldn't face the social interaction needed.

Last night my daughter came towards me holding her phone out towards me whilst uttering the most terrifying words...

"can you speak to Max's mum?"

Well you would have thought she had approached me with a grenade in her hand, pin pulled,  if you'd seen my reaction. I barked at her to take it away from me just as if it was going to kill me. Her poor face was plastered with confusion and I made up some rubbish about needing to know what it was I was meant to be discussing with this other Mother before I speaking to her, but it was lame and she knew my reaction wasn't normal. (whatever normal is?!)

Undeterred though she tried again this morning but thankfully I managed to sway the conversation towards that of a text message exchange which thankfully sufficed in the end.

It leaves me feeling that inevitable pang of failure, that useless bundle of nerves that I often feel must equate to my sum total. She asked me before I took her to her club this evening,

"why are you so tired?"

and yet again I found myself having to find a reasonable explanation for the fact I am feeling dog tired, again, washed out, again, and all from doing very little.

I wanted to say,

  • Well the day started with you asking me to speak on the phone which burnt through 20% of my energy,
  • I had to wash and put on clean clothes that was another 15% gone.
  • Driving to town, then having to book your bowling session and paying for it before speaking to your beau that used up another 20%.
  • Then the hour's dog walk along the beach used up another 10%,
  • The dash to the toilet in the local theatre was another 5% as there were people in there staring at me thinking I was a weirdo (least that's what my head said at the time).
  • Then there was the taxi service home, cooking that stew for dinner and
  • This club run now, there's another 20% gone ...

which leaves me I think with 10% brain function for your pick up,  seeing the other parents in three hours time plus any conversations that you hope to have with me this evening!!

However I made up yet another lame excuse about the sea air sapping my strength and that it must be all the fresh air that's exhausted me! Luckily she agreed beach walks were tiring and there I was off the hook!

Anxiety is like having naff batteries fitted, they don't recharge well at night, whatever charge they do take on dissipates quickly and when you need explosive energy bursts they don't give you the strength you want!
The demons roaming about my head spend their lives poisoning those few remaining active brain cells against me whilst every external stimuli proves utterly exhausting. The demons whisper their putrid mantras along my synapses, you're useless a parent,  you're a pointless a person, you're fat and ugly, in fact anything and everything negative that they can conjure up to attack me with.

Anxiety uses my own brain against me, I'm literally turning on myself from the inside outwards. Beating myself up with never ending self loathing and despair. The voice in my head knows all my insecurities and uses them against me and it is so loud that it drowns out all the other voices to the point that it is the only one I can hear.

The tiredness envelopes me like that black cloud you so often see drawn so evocatively to demonstrate depression and anxiety.

The darkness clings to me like a strand of the sticky catchweed plant from the meadow.

The darkness permeates my clothes like the smoke from a bonfire,

the darkness is so tangible I feel like trying to shake it off like a dog does water.

And what is that despicable discomfort I feel when I am in public?

It's like I've messed myself and the entire world is staring straight at me, seeing my embarrassment, watching me walk with my legs a metre apart, smelling my shame.

They're laughing, pointing at me and I just wish I could fold myself in on myself and disappear.

That feeling of unease that the worst thing ever is about to happen or that it already did.  The willpower it takes not to run away is ridiculous.

I'm definitely not to be trusted around people, I either cry or shout at them and truly there doesn't seem to be a middle ground! I say harsh things, I snap, I'm flippant and cutting... I have no filter at all and even when I'm angry I am still on the verge of crying.

I freak out even when there is no reason to but I just cannot seem to stop myself because my emotions are running riot.

The lunatics are running my asylum so to speak!

All in all anxiety is currently ravaging me and I find myself being stormy, weepy and down right unreasonable with a predisposition for being utterly spiteful!

A lovely twitter friend suggested tonight that I should give myself credit for what I have achieved today as opposed to beating myself up over the uselessness I feel and see in the mirror.

He said I should concentrate on the big steps taken ... mmm ...

sorry it's not working!!

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Depression's invasive numbness

I have been struggling over the past few days with the invasive numbness that comes with depression.

Its like the mist that creeps off the sea.

One minute you have a glorious sunny day on the beach and the next its overcast and chilly. Within the flip of a coin the mood changes from fun filled day to a depressing and chilly one. The fun goes and it couldn't feel any different a day and all in a split second.  

There's a reason why they always use mist in films to betray creepy, scary, unnerving moments. they want you to feel disorientated, lost and confused.

That's how I feel at the moment, except it feels like I'm not feeling at all in some ways.

Numb, frozen, paused? 

I can't raise a smile to be happy or shed a tear to be sad. I feel lost in no mans land betwixt the two.

My head feels fizzy and slow. Towards the back of my head it feels sore like someone cracked me around the back of the head with a baseball bat. When I try to focus on something its like there's a missing connection, something unplugged. Like putting your foot on a car's accelerator and getting no response. Its wearing and exhausting though, thinking nothing and looking into space or wandering around aimlessly. It's utterly sapping, your strength evaporates like a puddle under the burning hot sun. It makes no sense, sounds utterly pathetic when you need to say it out loud, but you'll know what I mean if you suffer. Limbs filled with lead, you feel like you've done ten exercise classes back to back and then taken the same amount of exams and all on the same day. Mentally and physically exhausted, devoid of the strength of mind or body to function. Like an upturned beetle, going nowhere, vulnerable, panicked, wriggling about using all your energy up but making no progress.

That's partly why I hate being with people at the moment, my brain just doesn't function. They want to make idle chit chat and my head just wants to look dumbly at a plain wall and say nothing at all.

I want to be invisible, I can't be bothered to wash or dress in clean clothes or brush my hair. I just want to be left alone to rot away.

They don't get it, whatever 'it' really is. I have some friends who either don't want to get it or just really cannot grasp it and what it entails when I try and tell them. I've been invited out next weekend and I've said no, but instead of saying okay we understand maybe next time they've got the hump. I'm used to their attitude because it is not the first time,  but I'm getting to the point where I just can't be bothered with them anymore. I don't talk about what's affecting me because it falls on deaf ears and when I see them at clubs or school runs I have now snapped a couple of times and said some less than delicately phrased things! I should apologise really for snapping but its feeling the motivation to even be bothered with that these days too. I don't want to entirely sabotage my social life though if for no other reason than my daughters sake. She loves to see them away from school and play and have fun.

As you all know if you follow me on twitter I had a meeting with the police federation last week to talk about the way forward. I cried a lot, which left me feeling utterly humiliated, not his fault at all but exhausting nonetheless. He talked about the need for there to be a case conference with HR, my line management and  the sooner the better. That was like a punch in the guts, made me feel sick and terrified all at the same time but I have to move forwards and he says that is the best way. He's hoping in doing that, the meeting may result in them agreeing that I need to see a psychiatrist who could then direct some treatment. It seems a bit like I'm being put in a shop window to prove to everyone how unwell I am, like a performing seal. Come look at the nutter she's a snot fest and a gibbering wreck. Roll up, roll up come and see the lamest woman you ever could clap eyes on. watch her blub, she'll make a fool of herself right there in front of your very eyes.
Ugh sorry, the logical side of my brain knows that's tosh but its the way part of me feels about it.

There is not one of us who likes being seen when we're weak, think about it. Have you ever felt vulnerable in public, what did you do? Stand and look weak or make excuses and disappear? If a friend wells up when you're out with them, they'll rush off to the toilet or walk away. Its wholly unnatural to have to bear yourself and your inherent weaknesses in front of others in what inevitably feels like a show to prove to them you are ill.

I have had periods of deep depression before but this is stronger, it's pulling me down more than I have had to fight against before. It's like I'm swimming in the sea in a strong current and I'm fighting against it yet I keep swimming, but somehow I'm drifting away from where I need to be.

Part of me is genuinely scared in case I completely lose control and I end up drowning or worse still being washed out to sea.

Let's hope this meeting doesn't sink me and that I manage to keep on treading water for the time being. I seem to have lost my little boat!! Yet my analogy remains around water?! Freudian though isn't it, as I'm a poor swimmer and quite scared of being out of my depth in the sea!