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Speaking up and seeking help

10 Oct, 2020

British Transport
Police Federation
Oct 10, 2020

Speaking up and seeking help


World Mental Health Day has been marked since 1992 with the aim of raising mental health awareness. This year's theme is 'mental health for all'.

Thanks to Fed Rep, Stuart Cowan, for writing this guest blog:



Today is World Mental Health Day and I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on some past experiences of mine and put down some words that may resonate with you.

*** Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert and certainly don't claim to be ***

Every one of us in life faces challenges and I don't believe that there is a single person in the world who doesn't. This year being a prime example where there is a massive, life-changing difficulty that every adult and every child is going through. It has disrupted us all in some way; from missing special milestones and events to things we perhaps took for granted like going to the match, cinema trips with friends, holidays. The list is endless, and it is only natural that it can affect us in some way, often without us realising.

We, the policing family, face further challenges on top of that. I'm not saying that we are deserving of any special recognition, or down playing the challenges that those in 'normal' jobs have to deal with, however, the simple fact is that we do see and deal with incidents that very few people will have to come across. We should pay recognition to this when considering our mental health.

22 May 2017

This date is forever etched in my memory and has been the single biggest challenge that I have faced. As you will no doubt be aware, this was the date of the Manchester Arena terror attack where 22 people lost their lives to the atrocity.

I wasn't even there on the night of the incident; I have spoken to some who were and to those I have spoken to, and those I haven't had the chance to, you all have my respect and admiration. I can't begin to comprehend where to begin dealing with something like that.

My role within this incident was as part of the search team the following day. I can vividly remember receiving that call from our Ops Department asking me to pack a bag and get ready to go from Kirkcaldy and head down to form part of the search team. I didn't think twice, despite it being a major incident, and at the time being unsure what I would be walking into. Training and instinct kicks in and the overriding feeling was the desire to try and help in some small way. I do still smile at the fact I was told by Ops it was likely going to be for the one night - experience tells you to pack for longer!

Personal impact

I like to think of myself as quite resilient and have always felt that I can have an emotional detachment between 'the job' and my personal life. I'm an experienced officer and have been involved in major incidents previously.

That changed for me the moment that I took my first steps into the Arena. Even as I type this, if I close my eyes and inhale, I can still smell the smells from that day. A few days into the search and nearing completion we were at one of the station's exits where I noticed a little bit of paper lying on the steps. It had clearly been trampled over many times in the natural rush to get out of the arena. Picking it up and turning it over it was a little hand-made love heart from a young girl that said: 'I Love You Ariana'.

It was those moments that I found most challenging. The little girl had put her name and age on the back of her paper. She was the same age as my daughter. This was the point that changed things for me.

Whether it was the singular emotion of finding that little bit of paper, or the culmination of the most testing and demanding working week of my life I knew that I needed to speak about what had happened. I spoke to those I was searching with and it was quickly apparent that I wasn't the only one thinking like this. A few of us agreed to go out that night for a meal and a couple of drinks to give us a chance of speaking about things. It wasn't about going on a night out; it was the best therapy that we could have had. Not the meal and the drinks, but the fact we could speak about it, knowing that we were all facing similar emotions.

The TRIM Process

Before we departed Manchester and again a few weeks back on area, we received a group TRIM session. It was another opportunity for us to speak about what we had witnessed, and how we were feeling.

This takes me back to before we entered the arena. We were briefed by our OIC that we would be afforded the opportunity to speak to TRIM. I must be honest, having never used the TRIM process before I was dismissive of it and again thought that I could detach my emotions. In hindsight I was naive and I'm grateful for going through that TRIM process.

The Manchester terror attack has undoubtedly changed how I view incidents, and everyone is different in how they deal with exposure to trauma. I find that I have the mindset of being able to get into the zone where I can deal with the actual incident in front of me without issue, but where I do begin to struggle is when you bring the emotional and human touch into it - perhaps speaking to victims' families and such like.

Speaking up and seeking help

I would ask that if any of you reading this are struggling in some way or know of someone that is struggling then please try to find a coping mechanism that can assist. I would urge my colleagues to find the courage to take the time to tell somebody what they are going through. But we can also do more to look out for one another.

We have a duty of care to ourselves and our colleagues. The Force has a duty of care to those that they employ.

Quite often we work with the same team/shift and get to know them on a slightly different level. It may be that a colleague/supervisor will know when a teammate is not themselves, or if they have been deployed to one too many traumatic incidences. It may not even be work-related and could be that they are facing challenges in their personal life. It is vital that when we see colleagues are struggling, we know how to help.

Finding what works for you

Mental health and wellbeing aren't a case of 'one size fits all'. Everyone can face unique challenges - but what is important is if officers/teammates/friends want help and support, they know where to get it.

There are support systems in place within BTP and your Federation friends are available to assist you. If you don't feel comfortable going through those channels, there are other ways to help with stress factors. For example, speaking to people or organisations out with the police (see below), speaking to friends or family, using exercise or taking up hobbies.

Taking a break from social media and avoiding watching rolling news programmes can also help. Particularly now, there is a lot of bad (and sad) news being broadcast and negative commentary online which can be very wearing if you're watching and reading it every day.

My go to thing if I'm feeling stressed is to chat to friends, go for a run or take the dog for a walk along the beach, but again what works for me may not work for you. The important thing is that you can find something that helps you, and if you do wish to talk to someone, please find the courage to speak out.


[Image credit: Pixabay/serenestarts]

Sources of support:

BTP Federation - Tel: 0208 761 8071 /Email: info@btpfed.co.uk From support available through the Group Insurance scheme to grants and loans from the Welfare Fund, your local rep can advise on the support available to you, depending on your circumstances and needs.

BTP Assist - Tel: 0800 328 9972 (24 hours a day 365 days a year) The Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is a confidential service run independently from BTP, providing help in a variety of areas from financial guidance to bereavement support. They provide a help in a variety of areas including psychological issues, work and relationship problems, addictions, bereavement, caring issues as well as legal and financial concerns. Further information, support and guidance can be found in the wellbeing section of the BTP microsite.

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) - 0800 58 58 58 (5pm to midnight, daily) The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is leading a movement against suicide; 75% of all UK suicides are male. The CALM helpline is for people who are down or have hit a wall for any reason, who need to talk or find information and support.

Pacey Organisation - Tel: 0300 003 0005 Provides practical support and tips for parents on talking to children who may experience anxiety as a reaction to terrible events in the news and/or from their parent's involvement in dealing with the incident

Police Care UK - Tel: 0300 012 0030 Helps serving and former police officers and staff, volunteers, and their families, get the practical, emotional, and financial support they need in a confidential and safe environment.

Railway Mission - Tel: 07718 971919 (out of hours: 07718 971918) Provides voluntary pastoral services for employees and their families, irrespective of your race, religion, gender or sexual orientation (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).

Samaritans - Tel: 116 123 (free) / Email: jo@samaritans.org Whatever you're going through you can call the Samaritans any time, for free. Sometimes, writing your thoughts and feelings down can help you understand them better, so you can also email the Samaritans.