A Friend, a Funeral and Peer Support

by Peter Platt
Founder & Editor
Badge of Life Canada

Reprinted with permission of the author.

I went to a friend’s funeral a few days ago. I usually saw him once a month at our police retirees breakfast, but I hadn’t seen him for a couple of months. Did I call to see if anything was wrong with him? No, I didn’t because it was not unusual for him not to come to every one of the breakfasts, not everyone did. Should I have made the call? Maybe. It would not have stopped him from dying, but I probably would have found out that he was not well and been able to say hi to him for the last time, of course not knowing it would be the last time. These questions can never be answered, but as is usually the case when a friend and coworker passes on, you start to think about your own mortality, for a little while at least, then the thought passes. Until the next reminder.

Peter-Platt-300x323I use to work with my friend 30 years ago and the times were good. The guys in traffic enforcement were great to work with and we had fun. An unusual remark for a cop? Maybe, but at that time, we did have fun and we all worked well together. Some have passed on, some are still here. I saw a few at the funeral that I had worked with 3 decades ago. One officer who was at the funeral, I have seen at the retirees breakfast was a very good friend of the officer who had passed on a few days ago. He was always at the breakfast with his friend. In fact, they were the best of friends and I know his buddy will miss him very much. His friend is not well (a medical problem not of his doing), as I have noted about other officers these past few years. It is a sad commentary that we have all heard or said ourselves, “It really is sad that it takes a funeral of a friend in order to have other friends see each other after so many years.”

Being a dedicated police officer to “the job” sometimes takes its toll. Officers retire after 30 to 40 years and some have had too many “greasy spoon” breakfasts at the beginning of day shift. Not enough sleep when working night shift because they have to go to court during the day, sometimes during the whole week or 10 days of night shift. Too many injuries because some suspects decide they didn’t want to get arrested. Many officers develop diabetes. Many have high blood pressure leading to serious heart problems. Many are over weight and as a result suffer from other serious medical ailments. Some have turned to alcohol and/or drugs because they are lonely and feel isolated after working for 30 to 40 years, then retire not having been prepared for retirement. They miss the job, the camaraderie, the excitement, the adrenaline rush of pursuing bad guys in their squad cars, the arrests. They miss the prestige of having “the badge”, of being a cop. Please don’t misunderstand me. The officers I have just described do not fit all police officers, but I bet you, the reader, knows of at least 2, maybe a few more who fit the description of the ones I have just mentioned. And the suicides by retired officers are still occurring, not only because of what I have just described in some cases, but also from developing PTSD after retiring.

Many officers develop PTSD well before the retirement age and a comment that has been heard a number of times made by officers in this situation is, they don’t hear from their peers, the officers they have worked with for 10 or 15 years after they leave the job because of PTSD. They don’t hear from their friends, who they thought were their friends. They ask why and they don’t get answers. They become resentful. Their resentment turns into anger and is lodged deep inside them, preventing them from focusing on recovering from the darkness of their PTSD. It is said that “Resentment is the alcoholic’s biggest killer.” and that can also apply to an officer who becomes disabled with PTSD and becomes resentful for many different reasons. If a resentment is not dealt with as soon as possible, it can be like a festering wound, causing extreme emotional and physical distress. It is a very negative emotion and if it is not dealt with, it will eventually take its’ toll.

As we know, it is difficult time in a police officer’s life when he or she becomes disabled with PTSD and may eventually have to accept the fact that returning to the work they love so much may never be a reality. Where do they go from there? Who will help them find their way? This is when they need their friends to help them as well as their medical professionals.

They also needed their coworkers, their friends to notice that they were having a problem(s) before they left the job because of PTSD. This is why the police services need mental health programs. The recruits need the training, need to be educated about good mental health, about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They need to know when they are having difficulty or when their co-workers may be having difficulties. They need to know the signs of possibly having the symptoms or indicators of PTSD. They need to know that asking for help is not wrong, that there is no stigma in having PTSD. They need to know that they will not be singled out by their co-workers, their friends, their superiors as a pariah on the job and be treated differently, shunned.

The officers who work together, at times spend more time together than they do with their own families, should care about each other on the job as well as off the job. They should be cognizant about how their peers are behaving. Are they acting out of character? Are they withdrawing from their friends. Superior officers should care about the men and women they supervise each and every day. Caring for each other can go a very long way. Police services should be promoting “proper care”. Not just medical professional care, but proper care which not only includes medical professionals, but includes caring, having co-workers care about each other. Peers caring about peers. Noticing what is going on in each other’s life. Not prying into each other’s private life, but noticing if their friend, their peer, is having difficulties at work. Going to the police club after work and drinking too much. Becoming angry for no reason. Lashing out at the public on calls for no apparent reason. Withdrawing, isolating, walking (or running) into dangerous, life threatening situations with no regard for themselves (or the opposite, trying to avoid life threatening situations), depression, extreme startle response.

Police officers who work together, depend upon each other to “cover each other’s back” when they go on serious calls. There is no difference in caring for each other in other ways, keeping an eye on each other to make sure “everything is OK”.

When a police officer gets shot on the job and ends up in the hospital, he/she gets many visits by coworkers. But when an officer falls prey to PTSD in a great many cases, he/she is abandoned by the officers he/she has worked with for a number of years. This has to change.

Peer support is being offered by many police services across Canada. For many police services, a peer support program is very new to them. And in my opinion there is an element that has a big influence on how successful a peer support program can be and that is, peers need to care about each other and it is never too late to start caring.

Many spouses/partners of police officers who are suffering from PTSD and related disorders are no longer remaining quiet in the background. They are starting up Facebook pages and web sites and “speaking out” in an attempt to bring the serious problem to the forefront of how their husbands are suffering with PTSD and in many cases not receiving the proper care and respect they so rightly deserve. Also, in many cases where police officers have been diagnosed and are dealing with darkness of PTSD, the family unit suffers and is forgotten. We must not forget the family.

About the Author: Peter is a 25 year veteran of the Ottawa Police Service who was severely disabled with PTSD in 1992. In 2005, he joined a registered charitable service dog training organization in Ottawa and, from 2006 through to December 2009, he was a board member and Director of Client Services, Disabilities Advisor and an advocate for persons with disabilities. In 2008/2009, he gave presentations to a trauma councillor’s class at local college about PTSD. In March 2009 he started working with Veterans Affairs Canada, Operational Stress Injury Social Support as a trained volunteer peer helper & group facilitator for veterans with PTSD. In January 2010, Peter became volunteer Disabilities Advisor of the new Assistance Dogs Division of Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind. In December 2010 he also became a volunteer for the Military Family Resource Center in Ottawa. Peter is a proud member of the Ontario Police Association, Ottawa Police Association and the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. Peter believes all police agencies in the country should have the resources readily available to help officers who have become disabled with PTSD. As well, to assist officers who develop PTSD subsequent to their retirement. Peter is Editor and Founder of the Badge of Life Canada.