Last year The Courier ran a series of stories on PTSD with a particular focus on the impact on Victoria Police officers. At the time the instances of serving and former police suffering with the stress of their roles and feeling an apparent lack of support was revealed to be the tip of an ominousiceberg. Since the tragic suicide of a policewoman at Seaford and numerous other instances of police at “breaking point” police command has escalated the investigation to an independent inquiry. The results of that inquiry make sobering reading. On one hand it confirms what many already know and was reiterated only last week at the IBAC hearings, that policing is a tough job coming with exceptional circumstances and cost. Yet with a fundamental service and role to play in society and given exceptional powers to fulfill them,the need to focus on the mental health of those who carry it out is paramount.
Of particular concernin the report are revelations of aculture of repression where the mental well being of officersand therefore a keyelement in their capacity to performis wilfully ignored or concealed. This may be individual choice or a “group think”. The cause may bea macho culture of “thick skins” or career ambition reluctant to show weakness but the effects are the same; thecorrosive damage of stress more costly in the long term.Underlying the multitude of recommendations in the review is an urgent need to change this culture.
This also takes leadership. Former police Minister Wade Noonan took the extraordinary step of taking three months leave from his post due to the accumulated trauma experienced through his role. There would be many policemen and women with similar storiesto tell. While some appraisals may have seen Noonan’s actas a career misstep or even that he lacked the “backbone” for the job, The Courier would argue this is exactly the kindof genuine courage and exemplary precedent that is needed. It is when leaders show their vulnerability that we can see a shift in what is acceptable and so by degrees a culture can change.
We have crossed this bridge with the armed services. “Shell shock” is now PTSD and considered one of the true costs of war, the shocking inner scars accompanying returning veterans for a lifetime. So just as we areextolled not to forget the fallen we should pay no less attention to those who pay a similar cost for serving their community in our very midst, in difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.