Police officer opens up about his mental health

12 Oct 2016 13:00 PM

Karl Peterson [View Full Size]

A police officer serving the North East has opened up about mental health in a bid to get colleagues to talk about the strains of the job.

PC Karl Peterson was 40-years-old when he joined Northumbria Police as a response officer - full of excitement at the potential of a future career protecting the people working and living in the North East.

He was posted to Southern Area Command where he thrived alongside the rest of his shift but seven years into his service the constant strain of dealing with blue light calls began to take its toll.

It wasn't until he sought the help of Northumbria's Occupational Health Unit (OHU) that he was able to get professional help from a counsellor and return to work as a Neighbourhood Beat Manager in South Tyneside.

Now Karl has made the brave decision to share his experience to try and encourage other members of the emergency services to seek support for any mental health issues they may experience.

He been appointed as one of Northumbria Police's 30 Blue Light Champions who have received specialist training to recognise the signs of poor mental health in their colleagues and offer advice to those who need it.

Karl, who works in Hebburn and Jarrow Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: "When I joined the police I felt alive with excitement and what the future held for me. I could not wait to get to work whatever shift I was on.

"But after a few years things slowly started to change. I felt like I was on an iceberg and it was slowly starting to melt. Eventually, after I had tried to patch it up a dozen or so times, I was left standing on a ice cube slipping into the water.

"I was nearly 50 and I was becoming very tired, I wasn't sleeping, I was having arguments at home, arguments with supervision and I turned to drinking. I realised I had nothing more to give and little fuel in the tank to continue.

"The final straw was at the beginning of one night shift when my collar number was called on the radio. I started to shake, my heartbeat increased and I began sweating. At this point I knew I could not continue.

"I went to OHU and actually broke down. I realised I needed professional help and my turning point was when I fully engaged with a counsellor during one-to-one sessions. They helped me steady myself and eventually I returned to the station.

"We have excellent facilities at Northumbria Police and both the response and professional manner of the force's OHU is what prevented me from leaving the job I strived so hard to get in the first place.

"Now I want to give something back by becoming a Blue Light Champion and giving my colleagues the peer support that was not available to me when I was at my lowest point."

A recent survey by Mind revealed that 9 in 10 (87 per cent) emergency services staff and volunteers have experienced stress, low mood and poor mental health at some point whilst working for the emergency services.

In February, Northumbria Police Chief Constable Steve Ashman and the Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird QC signed Mind's Blue Light Time to Change Pledge.

As part of that pledge, supervisors across the force have been trained in how to recognise the signs of poor mental health in the past six months so they can offer advice and support to those who need it.

And now the force have launched their Blue Light Champions who will offer specialist peer support to compliment the commitment to well-being already given by supervision, Human Resources and the Occupational Health Unit.

Police and Crime Commissioner and Chair of the Police and Crime Commissioners Association, Vera Baird QC, said: "Ensuring those with mental ill health receive the appropriate care when in contact with the police is a priority for Northumbria Police, and as this Blue Light Champion commitment demonstrates, this duty of care extends to our officers and staff too.

"Working for the emergency services can be extremely difficult at times and we need to make sure appropriate support is available to all colleagues when they need it - and I will ensure this commitment to the welfare of our workforce continues."

Assistant Chief Constable Darren Best, lead for the Blue Light Project, said: "In recent months we have put a lot of resources into making sure our officers and staff have the best possible support at their fingertips.

"Sadly some stigma surrounding mental health still exists. The nature of our job means that those working in the emergency services may need some form of support during their career. That is nothing to be ashamed of and we should not be afraid of talking about it.

"The launch of the Blue Light Champions is an important step in this process and provides people with the opportunity to be able to speak with someone in confidence about what they are experiencing.

"That person may be a close colleague or it may be someone from an entirely different section of the force. Every single champion has received specialist training to help support officers and staff when they need that extra bit of support."

For further information about Mind’s Blue Light Programme visit