“When I signed up when I was 19, I think it was to serve the Queen and the crown on something else and something else but no one ever mentioned mental health to me. You know, I was 19.”
In 1976, terms like mental health and well-being just weren’t part of the conversation and Mick’s motivations for joining were just like everyone else’s, he wanted a better life.
“I worked on driving camps and stuff like that and then I grown up on a farm and I knew what was a better life. I knew it was more reliable in terms of an income and I loved every minute of it.”
Despite his love of the job, problems were starting to arise. Like all officers, Mick was exposed difficult and confronting situations on a daily basis. He thought that the solitude of country policing might ease the burden and make it easier to cope but it didn’t.
“Probably one of the things – I was unwell then and didn’t recognise it and I looked at if I worked by myself then I could deal with the issues by myself. But it was just, it was just wrong, it was a fallacy.”
Mick remembers working Highway Patrol in Mansfield.
“You’d go to these absolutely horrendous jobs and then you get back in the car and you were hit by yourself. You know, it was just you, you’ll one-up that’s the way we police those days. I didn’t have to talk to anyone about the job, I could just finish my shift, go back sign the kit off, go home, deal with whatever, deal with it have the best as I could.”
So after 30 years of protecting the community Mick left the job, broken and in need of some help. The onset of post-traumatic stress disorder is different for everyone. For Mick, it was a buildup of incidents which ultimately became too much.
“You know, there’s just it’s that whole bucket effect where you know the bucket gets filled up to a certain point then it overflows. If you don’t get that assistance early – that it’s when that bucket flows over, then it’s you know you’re coming from behind for a time.”
Mental illness has far-reaching effects, it’s not just a personal issue – it’s a family issue.
“That’s one of the problems with a mental illness, unless there’s someone that says – hey, look you know get some treatment, then you just continue on your merry way and then you end up with these really bad outcomes. That are they’re not only bad for the individual, they’re bad for a family.”
Many former police officers struggle with financial pressures – alcohol and drug dependence and family breakdowns.
“There’s huge stresses on relationships you know, and it’s sometimes you know the old cliche was asked just a job you know, it’s part and parcel but it’s it isn’t that it’s it’s that whole mental health mental welfare that is not being addressed.”
But people like Mick are working to change that. He is one of the founders of the retired peer support officer program established in 2014 with the aim of providing assistance to former officers who may be suffering with mental illness.
In October this year, Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton and Secretary Wayne gate of the Police Association Victoria will walk 1,000 kilometres across Victoria to raise money for the program.
“I’ve worked across some and lots of different chief commissioners and lots of different governments of both persuasions and it’s the first time I’ve seen someone actually put their hand up and say – we’ve done it and we’ve got to fix it and I you know to me that’s just incredible.”
With more awareness of mental illness there have been increasing numbers of retired police officers coming forward for help. The $500,000 raised through the Head to Head walk will help to fund more training opportunities for the peer support volunteers who generously donate their time to the cause.
“So it’ll support that, it’ll support the one-day training courses, it’ll support the professional development.”
More funding means more opportunities to help transform the lives of retired police officers who are battling day in and day out with mental illness.
“Probably the support of Graham and the support of Wayne Gatt from the TPA. They’re taking it to the next level and we’re helping serving, we’re helping the veterans and to me – if you look at that as an outcome that is just been fantastic.
Reviewed 05 August 2019