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PTSD – Have We Really Improved?

Last updated on July 23rd, 2023 at 12:23 pm

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ptsdBefore I get going I’d just like to make it clear that this is not a competition. My scars are not bigger or worse than your scars. We are who we are and we all deal with shit differently. What I have written is not even a comprehensive account of my experiences and horrors, more just my thoughts on how we were, how I perceive us to be now, and whether not anything has improved. If you think I’ve got it wrong or wish to contribute in any way at all please free to leave comments below, I allow all comments except those that are obviously spam or unduly abusive, so feel free. If you prefer anonymity feel free to post under name you like.

Firstly I think it fair to point out to those that have never served in the Emergency Services or Armed Forces that it is virtually impossible to go the full distance and not be affected by stress/PTSD in some way. Unless you were a desk jockey it is almost inevitable that you would have come face to face with trauma at some point. I survived my 30 years, been in recovery for 16 years and looking forward to surviving at least 14 years more. I want to draw my pension for longer than I paid into it.

Am I damaged? Almost certainly, how much is for others to say. Am I the same person who joined the Met in 1972? Definitely not. I know that I have been changed, my family know it, and I wish I could go back but we all know that’s not possible.

My first and only personal encounter with the support offered by the Met was in the 80s. I don’t intend to catalogue all the traumatic events that passed my way. Those that worked with me will know what some were, but nobody knows all of them except me. Not even my family, and maybe that was a mistake.

Anyone who has spent even a year or two in the Police will have encountered fatal traffic collisions (apparently we don’t call them accidents any more), delivered “death messages” in the early hours of the morning, dealt with the anguished parents at a “Cot Death” and so on and so forth. Each and every one leaves their mark. I once likened it to a snowball rolling down the hill until its size and weight made it unstoppable.

Apologies to those who have heard these stories before but I shall briefly outline the two main events contained within my personal snowball, but there were many more. These two are relatively common knowledge amongst my colleagues and I don’t mind sharing them.

Firstly, one sunny Saturday I was mysteriously called in to see my Relief Inspector. He informed me that a colleague, a friend even, and a Federation Rep had been reported missing from the local hospital where he had been admitted after attempting to take his life. I was the only officer on duty who knew him, so I was allocated the enquiry. A good reason for me NOT to deal with it I thought. Eventually the inevitable happened and he was discovered in a railway tunnel, a victim of the London to Glasgow Express. Yours Truly and a Sergeant were dispatched to the scene to deal with this Sudden Death. I won’t attempt to describe the scene that greeted us, but my poor friend was barely recognisable. It was my responsibility to accompany my friend’s body to the mortuary, attend the Post Mortem, prepare a report for the Coroner and give evidence at the Coroner’s Inquest, oh, and the midst of all this inform his wife.

What support was I offered or given by my immediate supervisors upon my return from the mortuary? “Good job, see you tomorrow”.

The second incident that left a major impression on me, but of a totally different kind, was during the Miners’ Strike. I had been given a nice new car to drive one of the governors around a certain County for a week. On the last day of the week I was unfortunate enough to be involved in a collision (not an accident apparently). Coming out of an Army Camp I was struck by a low-flying Porsche. I had seen it coming from my left and stopped waiting for it to pass. The slightest of bumps on the corner told me that it hadn’t quite worked, but nothing too serious. Then I watched the Porsche take off, pirouette in the air, take out a fence at the side of the road and a tree then break up into many pieces. I did not think that the driver could possibly have survived. As the dust settled a young lady miraculously began to appear through the sunroof of a crumpled shell. “What happened? Where did you come from? I didn’t see you”. As would be standard practice the local Traffic Sergeant was called. The first thing he did at 9am was to breathalyse me. Nothing to worry about, I’d been working for 8 hours already by then. Negative, good. “Without Due Care for you then son” was his reply and he took no notice of the fact that I had been stationary and the carnage in the field indicated that the Porsche driver had been speeding.

Fast Forward to Christmas Eve and I was once again called in to see my Inspector for a meeting without coffee. He cut straight to the chase and served me with a summons for Driving Without Due Care. On Christmas Eve. It could have waited till after Christmas. I could have been sent it Recorded Delivery like any Member of the Public, but no the bastard county Police decreed that I warranted Personal Service.

Fast Forward to a date in May and I am standing in the dock of a Magistrates Court oop norf. The Court has been closed to the public (thankfully) and I am the only defendant in that Court all day. For an alleged Traffic Offence.

Long trial cut short, later that afternoon the Magistrates retired to consider their verdict. Then they sent out for tea and biscuits. Then they returned and I was told to stand up to hear my fate.

Not Guilty. Then came the good bit. They found that the accident reconstruction by the Bastard Constabulary had been woefully incompetent. The reconstruction by my expert witness had established that the Porsche driver had been travelling at 113.6 mph. She was never prosecuted for anything. I had been, and I was stationary. Work that one out. I was awarded (a lot of) costs against the Bastard Constabulary though. A big thing in those days.

What support did I get from my Force at the end of the failed prosecution? A telephone conversation with a Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard who said “We all know what happens at Court, the Innocent get convicted and the Guilty go free”.

I had suffered the initial stress of seeing a Porsche from angles they were never designed to be seen from, and then the stress of enduring a malicious prosecution, and all that entailed.

As a not very amusing aside, after the Magistrates had so brutally delivered their verdict in my favour, the Traffic Sergeant responsible for me being there showed me a memo from Chief Constable Bastard that quite clearly instructed that any Metropolitan Police Officer coming to notice was to be prosecuted. No mention of meeting the evidential threshold whatsoever.

A totally different type of stress, but one that our officers are enduring far too often some 35 years later.

At no point, after either incident, did anybody offer me any kind of support. Not at that stage. It took the mighty snowball to push me down the hillside, then I got help.

Eventually I cracked. An Inspector called Don (you know who you are if you ever read this) came to my home and persuaded me that I needed help and he was going to get it for me. I will forever be grateful to Don. Without his sympathetic and caring approach the outcome could have been very different. As it was, within a matter of hours of Don’s intervention I was occupying a bed in the Metropolitan Police Nursing Home at Henditz, day one of my recovery.

Thank You Don.

What is the point of all this? Where am I going with it? The year was 1980 something. Latter end of the decade somewhere. I was in a purpose built Nursing Home, full of lovely, fully qualified Nurses, doctors on call and direct access to the Psychiatric Department of St Thomas’ Hospital in London. Between them they put me back together. Eventually I returned to work, but with a much different attitude. Never again would I let events run away with me without seeking help.

Fast Forward to 2019. How busy is the Nursing Home at Henditz now? It isn’t. It has been demolished. The land it stood on sold off. The Nurses? Made redundant. The Welfare Officers ( in the plural). I’m not sure if there is one or not any more, maybe someone could enlighten me.

Somebody at New Scotland Yard is paying lip service to PTSD and stress, but has it really got any better? Again I will bow to the experience of those officers still serving, but I don’t see how it can have got any better.

The Nursing Home and all the wonderful,staff associated with it in any way are gone, victims of “The Cuts” and just like the Officers, Police Staff, Police Stations, Feeding Centres, Married Quarters and Section Houses will, in all probability, never be replaced. This is the brutal reality of what Camoron and May’s policies have wrought upon the Metropolitan Police Service, and I am in no doubt that a similar situation exists in every Force in the country, even the Bastard Constabulary.

So, in answer to my opening question, the answer has to be NO.

I fully recognise that not every Force is/was as well-off as the Met used to be and levels of care will undoubtedly vary, but is that ‘level’ going up or down?

The two examples I have illustrated are just that, two examples over 30 years. I could write a book about the stressful incidents we dealt with, but I’m not sure I want to.

The incidence of Stress/PTSD is undoubtedly higher now than it was in the 80s, I am perfectly confident of that, but the resources to look after our Police Officers have been slashed. Any one of you not serving or never having served, if you have a friend who is or was a member of the Emergency Services or Armed Forces, talk to them. If they choose to open up I’m willing to bet that every one of them will be carrying some invisible scars somewhere, but we have less ability to treat them than we had in the 80s. Once again, I can’t speak for Forces outside London and would genuinely be interested to hear what resources other Forces invest in their officers. I did hear absolutely wonderful tales of the support given to officers after the fire at Bradford Football Club in 1985 by West Yorkshire Police. I do hope they were true.

In conclusion:- Tries Hard, Must Do Better is my assessment, but I hope I’m not being unfair.

I’m sorry this has been such a long post, but it is too serious a topic to brush over it. There was far more to both of the above incidents, plus many, many more other incidents. My quill is not sharp enough to record them all here. I was just one Bobby. Think, for one moment, how many others there are out there who were not as lucky as me, not getting any help whatsoever.

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8 thoughts on “PTSD – Have We Really Improved?”

  1. Great post and certainly food for thought. I thought things had changed for the better in the ‘job’ in relation to mental health. Now, I’m not so sure, after reading this.
    The rest of my comments are not intended a s plug for my book but my experiences, I believe, are relevant.
    I too, like Mr Parker, am ex-Hants. I was one of only three undercover officers on Operation Julie 1976 -1978 – yes, only three. The remainder were surveillance teams.
    I became someone else (another identity) for a long period of time while undercover. There is no doubt it contributed to my nervous breakdown and resignation in 1980.
    I resigned while certified sick and awaited an appointment with a shrink. In the end, I “self-healed,” with no help from the job whatsoever.
    After writing my memoir about my undercover experiences, I have made numerous attempts to rectify the fact I left the job with no medical pension. Mental health was a stigma back then and no way was I going to jump on the medically disabled bandwagon.
    What a fool!
    Hampshite (sic) Police, and its Force Solicitor have used every legal obstacle available to them to deny me some form of compensation. I must add at this juncture, the Federation and its solicitors did a noble but vain job in advocating my cause.
    At one point, I requested my own “discovery” – my personal record.
    Much to my disgust but no real surprise, Operation Julie isn’t mentioned once on my records.
    What was mentioned was a comment from a Chief Constable who never knew me, marking my reference for the Hong Kong Anti-Corruption Commission as “unsuitable.”
    Unsuitable, why? Because I’d had a nervous breakdown?
    If the truth be known, it was more than a nervous breakdown. It was more likely to have been Dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously known as multiple personality disorder, a mental disorder characterized by at least two distinct and relatively enduring personality states.
    So, I’m sorry to hear your story and I empathize. At least you stuck it out long enough to draw your full pension.

  2. I started my 34 year career with BTP in 1980 at Swansea then I was transferred to the London Underground in 1985 for 6 years, before finally returning home to South Wales
    During my service I attended somewhere in the region of 30+fatalities which included body parts recovery, continuity at the Mortuary and then notifying the NOK, which was never an easy task
    People react through shock in different ways but you just adapt to whateverr is in front of you
    One NOK notification. my Sergeant and I gave was during a night shift. As soon as we informed the deceased’s wife that her husband had taken his life, she became hysterical which subsequently woke up her daughter
    As her daughter came downstairs to see why her mother was so upset, we were told that it was her daughter’s ninth birthday that day
    My Sergeant and I were numb when we left the house thinking that the young girl would not see her father again
    I also attended scenes of train crashes in the mid to late 80s, the sinking of the Marchioness and the aftermath of the King’s Cross fire.
    Some of these I can never erase from my memory, but at the time it was considered to be very macho, if you get my drift, to just deal with it and move on to the next one
    We used to claim ‘ handling’ expenses whenever we dealt with a fatality, but our Chief Inspector questioned us when we claimed it on numerous occasions due to a spate of fatalities. I kid you not
    Sadly we used to attend one then two would follow shortly after
    I thank you for highlighting this and hope that this gets recognised in the appropriate manner

    1. Back in the 80s I took part (much to my Force’s horror) in a BBC documentary “The John Wayne Syndrome”, which was much more sympathetic than the title suggests and highlighted perfectly the macho practice you refer to and the consequences of it.

  3. Better or worse. I can’t really say as I’ve been retired now for 24 years except for one example which I’ll come to soon.

    I served with Hampshire Constabulary from 1966-1995 a few years here and there in uniform but mainly CID, often with 24/7 responsibility. My last posting was as Scenes of Crime DI for the whole force area including the Isle of Wight. I’ve been to several railway tunnels, light aircraft crashes, many murders including children, cot deaths, shotgun suicides etc. plus associated post mortem examinations. If it happened I pretty much saw it all.

    There was not one occasion over those nearly 30 years when a senior officer asked me if I was OK after an incident. Not one. Was I offered support? No. Did I know if support was available? No. A few pints in the police bar or local pub, head down and onto the next horror. Am I affected now? Well, I can’t unsee all those scenes. They are still clear if I care to think of them but thankfully I am not suffering from the memories.

    A couple of years ago I watched an official video on You Tube where a DCC was having an informal chat with officers at a rural station. One PC did the ‘asking for a friend’ bit and queried whether any further support was coming to the station as his friend was feeling under great stress with too much to do and knowing that any call for backup would take 30 minutes to arrive. The DCC’s reply? “Tell your friend if it’s that bad he should maybe think of employment outside the police service” or words to that effect. I was gobsmacked to say the least.

    If this is typical of top level management today then God help the poor buggers who remain.

    1. Somewhat reminiscent of the “dry your eyes” comment from a Chief Constable last year or so

    2. Interesting, I was a transferee from the Met and eventually was destroyed and targeted at the highest levels for highlighting corruption. It was the actions of the force that caused my illness, not the incident etc that I was involved with throughout my service. The present DCC of Hants exacerbated my illness and the force failed to allow reasonable adjustments as well as settings g me up to fail when I returned from long term sickness. If I look back to the Met, my father in law was also in the Met at the time in early 80s, we felt that there was more support, he also was in the medical facility at Hendon and I attended Flint House. In Hampshire I found that the culture of fear and bullying was not conducive to alliowing people to support you.

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