How police manage their mental health after horrifying trauma

MATES: Mount Isa Constables Nadine Godwin and Oliver Harvey-Walker check up on each other during mental health week. Picture: Lydia Lynch.
MATES: Mount Isa Constables Nadine Godwin and Oliver Harvey-Walker check up on each other during mental health week. Picture: Lydia Lynch.

Mount Isa cops are usually the first people on the scene of viscous domestic attacks, gruesome road traumas and tragic missing person cases.

This kind of trauma can have a lasting affect on their mental health, for obvious reasons. 

The North West Star stopped by the police station during Mental Health Week to find out more about how law enforcement manage their mental health in the wake of trauma. 

Mount Isa Police’s mental health liaison Sean Wade said cops are not immune to life’s struggles.

“Police are exposed to a myriad of situations and they can have a different affect on different people,” Sen Sgt Wade said.

“There is a stigma around mental health in the community full stop. Police are a part of the community, we eat, breathe and have feelings too.

“We are very aware of our own mental wellbeing and we wrap a lot of support around our officers who have attended critical incidents,” he said. 

Mount Isa police station has a dedicated psychologist to help out local cops that are going through a tough time. 

Last year an Australian report on mental health revealed police needed to be better prepared for the challenges of the job to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder after responding to emergencies.

The report made 31 recommendations to better manage the mental health risks of police, ambulance, fire services and defence force, including reviewing how recruits are screened so they are aware of the mental health risks of the job.

Mount Isa Police recognised how important it is to check in on each other. Picture: supplied.

Mount Isa Police recognised how important it is to check in on each other. Picture: supplied.

Sergeant Cath Purcell has previously opened up to The North West Star about the difficulties police officers face on the job all the time.

“Being a police officer is a tough job in lots of different ways,” she has said.   

“I am passionate about Mental Health Week, and reducing the stigma surrounding this topic that often stops people from getting help early.

“I know that looking after your well-being is really important, and that means doing things to take care of yourself all the time, before a problem becomes too big to manage,” Sgt Purcell said. 

“If you know that you don’t feel quite right, or you notice that things have changed and aren’t the same, I urge you to seek help from someone, talk about it, or make the changes in your life that will have a positive impact on your well-being.”

Mount Isa Police spreading the RU OK? message last month. Picture: supplied.

Mount Isa Police spreading the RU OK? message last month. Picture: supplied.

McKinlay’s recently departed Sen Constable Des Hansson said he moved out to the small bush town to escape trauma of policing. 

“Nobody calls the police when they are having a good time and so I started to get sick of dealing with drug affected families and domestic violence,” Sen Constable Hansson said. 

“I was probably battling a bit of PTSD.”

Post traumatic stress disorder is not uncommon in the police force and Hansson remembers the night that tipped him over the edge. 

It was around the time his eldest daughter had just left home to start university. 

Hansson was one of the first responders at a gruesome car crash which had killed a young woman. 

“When I got back to the office I just broke down and cried for an hour. Before that night I thought the things I was seeing at work had not affected me,” he said. 

“I think she reminded me of my daughter.

“The hardest part of the job is having to tell a parent that their child is dead. I decided I had had enough of that lifestyle and realised I could let me mental health continue to deteriorate or make a change so I decided to move out bush.”

If you need help contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, or Blue Hope on 1300 002 853 any time 24/7.