Working together to protect our future

One thing in particular that I have learnt is that within our membership we have a lot of broken people. Mental health was once the elephant in the room that no one wanted to talk about, with most of us choosing to ignore it in the hope that it would just fade away. As a soldier and police officer I was educated to believe that mental illness had no place in high risk professions, it was a character flaw, a weakness that threatened workplace stability. Any warning signs suggesting that you have or were susceptible to a mental illness were often ignored, no one wants to admit that they are not tough enough to cut it as a police officer.

In a study, nearly half of all workers said they wouldnt tell their manager about their mental health problems for fear it maybe career ending.

As police officers we see the worst that society has to offer, confronting crime scenes, shocking injuries, disturbing MVAs and death. On a daily basis someone in our membership will be injured on duty, verbally abused, threatened, punched, kicked, bitten or spat on. Attending high stress traumatic situations is an unavoidable part of the job. Maintaining our own mental health is an ongoing struggle for a lot of our members. No one expects or plans to end up a broken on the indefinite sick leave roster.

- It is estimated that a GP who sees 40 patients a day can expect that between eight and ten (20 25%) of these patients will require support or treatment for anxiety or depression.

- Mental health problems are the third biggest health problem in Australia, after heart disease and cancer.

- Depression is currently the leading cause of non-fatal disability but only three per cent of Australians identify it as a major health problem.

As the NTPA Southern Field Officer I have conducted many follow up wellbeing checks on members who have been exposed to traumatic incidents and/or have been assaulted in the execution of their duties. Members that I have spoken with would openly discuss what occurred and advise if anything was causing them undue stress or anxiety. Most members would decline an offer of Support Services and advise that they are travelling OK and were appreciative of the contact and support from the NTPA.

You would be excused into believing that the majority of our mental health issues stem from traumatic incident exposure:

What may come as a surprise to many, is that during conversation I have found that most members advised that although it is a contributing factor, it was not necessarily the actual exposure to trauma that was causing them the most grief, but the response and actions of their own management in a sometimes-unhealthy workplace which can feel like a frantic ride on an emotional roller coaster. Long hours, tight deadlines, and ever-increasing demands can leave you feeling overwhelmed. A little bit of stress and anxiety can help, its what keeps you focused and on your toes. But when stress exceeds your ability to cope it stops being helpful and starts causing damage to your mind and body.

I would encourage members to consider their own mental health and identify ways of resolving stress related issues in the workplace. I would also encourage line managers to be mindful and resolve or take appropriate action regarding traumatic and/or stress related issues that have impacted upon your team members. Talk with each other some things may be relatively straightforward to address, sharing information can reduce uncertainty and more importantly improve job satisfaction.