Previous Post: Look through the Windscreen
Take a look at the statistics…..one in five people in New Zealand have or will have some form of mental illness in their life time. If you do the maths, that means of the 11000 staff in the NZ Police, 2200 of them will be affected by some form of mental illness. I have spoken to some who believe that the percentage is greater than one in five so the number only grows….whatever way you look at it isn’t pretty. The key point is though, its normal…..that is what the experts state the numbers are and just because we wear a blue uniform doesn’t make those numbers plummet…..those experts will tell you it only makes them rise.
I remember when I joined the Metropolitan Police in 1981 as a fresh-faced 21-year-old I had seen nothing. I had spent years trying to crack my virginity and to say I was worldly when it came to life was like saying Donald Trump knows what he’s doing as president of the United States. The closest I had ever come to death was when my guinea pigs Whiskey and Twinkle were ravaged by the neighbours boxer dog. I was devastated and now when-ever I look at the stars or sip on a wee dram I shed a little tear for my two little friends. I imagine we all have those snapshots in life that trigger our emotions…..good or bad…..I have a mountain of them.
So on the 8th of June 1981 I was inducted into the Hendon hall of fame and trudged off on my lonely path to cynicism and subsequently completed my training as a sworn police officer in the Metropolitan Police. As a naive 21-year-old I didn’t really think about what I was getting into and even as I sit here now I’m not sure I was aware of the trauma I was about to be exposed to.
Before I joined the police in 1981 I worked as a porter at two well-known lunatic asylums in South London. Those types of institutions, thankfully, have now gone but that experience opened me up to “death”. Playing around with bodies in a mortuary was a regular occurrence in those places. They were the retirement villages of the 70’s and I toe-tagged a number of poor buggers who were no more insane than I was. There was no dignity in death there and I can remember one occurrence where we couldn’t be bothered getting the mortuary trolley and shoved the body into the back of a rubbish truck. We took off up the hill….it was beer time and the hospital social club was beckoning. We got to the mortuary and jumped out the truck and were pleased as punch that we had saved a bit of time. We got to the back of the truck and slowly looked at each other as the gravity of what had happened hit us…….no body……what the f…k !! We clambered back into the truck and short-shifted it at a rate of knots back down to the ward. As we drove down the hill we clapped eyes on a white sheet clad body lying in the middle of the road……luckily for us he was still resting on the mortuary tray we had taken and thankfully there was no signs of any injuries. We sheepishly loaded him back into the truck and drove carefully back to mortuary where we paid our last respects and headed off to the hospital social club to find ourselves a “willing nurse”.
The point of that trivia was that I was use to death when I joined the police but I wasn’t use to trauma. No one prepared me for standing in a mortuary to watch some doctor slice the head off a 6 month old baby with something resembling an angle grinder. It’s not something that I have forgotten and I still remember DCI Roger Bendle looking at me and realising I had no blood pumping through my head and telling me to leave…..if he hadn’t I’m sure I would’ve collapsed in a heap and split my own head open. I’d been in the police about 3 months when that happened to me and that picture is now hung up in my chamber of horrors for me to remember whenever I feel the need to pump myself full of misery.
I could spend years writing about those morbid snapshots of life I have seen….so could a lot of other policeman. No unsuspecting person is prepared for those events, neither are Nurses, Serviceman or Fireman. The fact that we put on a uniform doesn’t dehumanize us…we are just expected to cope and heaven forbid if you show any emotion. I tended to tuck those events away with the other snapshots in my life but in reality I had no idea what prolonged effect they were having on me. I don’t think anybody does but my depression gave me an insight into what they can do. Don’t get me wrong I’m not blaming the police or the work that I have done for my depression, I have other personal demons floating around that help contribute to that. I do wonder though, if the recruiting pamphlets for the police paint a bit too much of a rosy picture…why…. because over the years I have struggled at times to remember when I actually did “help somebody”. That picture gets harder to find when your mind is getting darker and when you are sleeping with the black dog you can’t see it at all….we as policeman are no different to anyone else but for some reason when we squeeze into that uniform we are not suppose to empathise…its a weakness.
So, one in five policeman with some form of mental illness, don’t kidd yourself, its way more than that. The problem is we will never know what that impact is because no one really wants to find out…….I’ve suffered from a mental illness…….I’m not a nutter…..I’m just a policeman…. trying to do my job.
Categories: My Story 2016
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