Oxford police officer goes public about his struggle with depression


An Oxford police officer has opened up for the first time about his struggles with depression, as he reveals the huge pressures on those tasked with keeping us safe.

PC Mike Ellis has gone on the record about his mental health to raise more awareness about the issue, which affects more than half of all emergency services workers.

The antisocial behaviour officer for Oxford said those on the front line were still afraid to admit to mental health problems.

His bravery has been praised by the head of Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service and mental health charity Mind, with all agreeing more needs to be done.
PC Ellis said: "The emergency services have always been quite a macho place: our job is to sort out other people's problems.

"You pull pieces of people out from under trucks when they've been run over and things like that and sometimes it all catches up with you.

"Depression skews your view of reality: it is a dark and dangerous thing, and we all know it can lead to the ultimate grief.

"I think we are our own worst enemies as individuals in the job: I'm too busy to take time for myself because I'm dealing with other people's lives and we don't want to appear to be weak to our colleagues."

PC Ellis, who has served with TVP for 30 years, had never been aware of suffering from mental health problems in his life until one day in September last year.

The 57-year-old, who has now decided to retire at the end of this year, said: "I didn't even know I was poorly until I reacted to a situation badly.

"Something was said in a meeting that I normally would have shrugged off, but I blew up then broke down.

"I had no clue that it was coming."

After lashing out at his colleagues in a way he could not explain, he went home to his wife Rebecca and took four days off to try to 'pull himself together'.

He went back to work for two days but said he 'wound up sobbing at his desk'.

It was only then he went to his GP who told him he was suffering from 'significant depression' and started him on a program of treatment.

PC Ellis said he was immediately given 'fantastic' support from the force occupational health team, getting regular meetings with a mental health nurse where he tried to work out what was behind his eruption.

He slowly realised that three decades of emotionally-draining work dealing with horrific car crashes, murders and assaults had finally caught up with him.

PC Ellis said: "In the general population, something like one in four people suffer mental illness: in the emergency services it's nine out of ten people, because we are the ones who hold everyone else up.

"The guys dealing with that awful fire at Grenfell Tower then have to go back to the fire station and tomorrow they're dealing with something else.

"You do get offered help but you say 'I'm fine, I'm going to go out for a beer'.

"A lot of people are on that journey but they will put it away, and that can result in much worse illness."

Oxfordshire's chief fire officer Simon Furlong agreed that while the emergency services have come a long way, culture still needed to change.

He revealed that he also has firsthand experience, having suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after being involved in a serious car crash.

He said: "Mental health problems can affect each and every one of us.

"I think there is still a bit of a macho culture about not wanting to talk, and people needing to understand it is ok to say you don't feel ok.
We have a critical incident debriefing team so where there has been a serious road traffic accident or fatality at a fire, staff can talk about these things, particularly younger staff: you could talk about maybe waking up in the night thinking about it."

Firefighters can get mental health support from the Fire Fighters' Charity and Mr Furlong is also overseeing the introduction of new 'mental health first aid' training to help staff recognise early indicators of problems.

He said: "There is a lot there, but we know we have got to go further."

Oxfordshire Mind short course co-ordinator Emily Scott praised PC Ellis for speaking out about his experiences.

She said: "We hope that Mike’s story and his positive experience of talking to his employer about his mental health will give others the confidence to speak to their employer when they feel they need support.

"We appreciate the value of sharing experiences in breaking down the stigma around mental health, and hope that this will also encourage other businesses and employers to put measures in place to support their staff’s wellbeing."

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Thursday, 09 July 2020

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