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'Silent mental health police culture is killing officers'

Ex-sergeant's poignant talk about his battle with PTSD, depression and his call for better treatment after being let down by his force
Published - 27/09/2018 By - Sophie Garrod - Police Oracle

How are officers expected to deal with members of the public suffering from mental health problems if they are unwell themselves, a medically retired sergeant asked.

Ed Simpson of North Yorkshire Police began his policing career in 1993 in Bradford, which eventually took its toll on him, leaving him broken.

The 42-year-old husband and father-of-two told this week's Mental Health and Policing Conference: “When you join the police, somewhere in training school when you put your uniform on, there’s an invisible shield that gets placed over the top of you, and that shield protects you. It protects you from all the absolute c*ap you’ve got to deal with day in, day out, day in, day out, day in, day out – I could go on and on, we all know what I’m talking about.”

In 2001, Mr Simpson had to attend a murder scene involving a 14-year-old girl who was raped and bludgeoned to death in an alleyway. He  stood over her body for eight hours with a sergeant passing a Mars Bar over the fence to him to keep his energy levels up.

“I went home and never thought about it again, because my shield had protected me. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel sorry for what happened, but I was a police officer, I’m not meant to feel anything….

“But one day, that shield - it had been battered - cracked and it wasn’t in the greatest shape anymore.”

A family of a boy who was involved in a fatal collision was taken to a mortuary by Mr Simpson, who was a family liaison officer at the time.

The teenager had just passed his driving test, clipped a curb, the car span out of control and hit a tree. He died instantly.

“I had done this lots of times, it was just another deployment to show a family someone who had died – it’s not easy, but I’m a police officer, and a police officer deals with this all the time and it’s not going to affect me.

“But I walked into that room where his body was, and it was the mother. The mother screamed and that scream will probably haunt me for the rest of my life, because that scream hit me so hard, my shield disintegrated.

“For the first time ever in police uniform, I cried.

“The mother was trying to get him off the bed, trying to open his eyes and shouting at him ‘why are you so cold’.

“I was stood there thinking ‘why am I crying, why am I crying?’ – It was the most horrendous and horrific thing I had ever experienced. It wasn’t gory, it wasn’t a bomb going off in my face, it was just a mother’s grief.”

Struggling to comprehend why the incident had impacted him so much, Mr Simpson began to feel guilty of his reaction as he thought he was not strong enough for the family.

Two years after the incident, which he eventually pushed to the back of his mind, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant and worked in Selby, North Yorkshire. However, he still did not feel on top of the pressures of juggling being a new dad and work.

Mr Simpson opted for a custody sergeant role to be closer to his home as his wife was expecting another child, but soon realised it was the worst place he could have chosen to work. With 24 cells and a team where the chief thought one sergeant was sufficient.

“Me being me, I just wanted to try and help everybody and that started to chip away at me.

“I started to hate my job and I didn’t want to be there. I remember sitting down getting ready for my 12-hour shift getting barraged with people in an out, constant questions and buzzers going off, looking at the clock and thinking ‘I can’t do a 12-hour shift – but I can do an hour shift 12 times'.

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