It is all too easy to listen and believe that there is only one way that a police force will treat an officer when they are being medically retired. All the horrid and uncaring attitudes of how some police forces treat their own injured officers, seems to be the norm. Then I was contacted by an officer, that retired from Durham Police in 2020, he believed that he had been taken care of. His story is not like many others, so after speaking to him I wanted to share a positive PTSD outcome in the job and how perhaps it should be handled, he was happy for me to share his incident and PTSD trigger.
Mick Urwin joined the service way back in 1990 starting with the Metropolitan police and then transferring to Durham Police in 2003 and was an active front line officer for many years. He recalls that 14 years into his lifelong career, he came in to work for a night shift and took over from the evenings team. As the night shift started a call came in of a serious road collision on a road leading away from the nick. He and two other colleagues went straight out and when they got to the location, they found that it was a colleague from evenings, on his way home. He had been killed behind the wheel and Mick had to deal.
Mick told me that he found this hard, struggling with ghost images of the scene, suffering flashbacks and nightmares. He carried on with the job thinking he would get thought it. Mick said that he did not want to bring his problems into work, he had the lack of sleep problems and kept his moody behaviour and outbursts in his home. Roll forward six months, there was another serious collision, on the same stretch of road that his colleague had gone fatal. Mick was dispatched to deal. At the collision there was another death to deal with and he felt the re-triggering of the first trauma, the one involving his friend. He said that he felt things change, and froze. Then when a traffic supervisor arrived and saw the state of him, he knew it was bad as he was taken back to the station by another officer.
He eventually sought help from the job, he was referred to a clinical psychologist and diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress synDrome. He was shocked as he thought that he had not been to “war” as it was an armed forces illness. As far as he was concerned this was a condition that only affected war veterans and not the regular bobby on the street. He went through CBT and it seemed to crack the problem. He was then able to get on with his work and even though there were some memories lingering, he was able to progress in his career.
Then as a Sergeant with almost 28 year’s service, supervision above him changed and brought additional pressures and work stress, which eventually “opened the flood gates” to his PTSD and with it, the return of the constant flash backs, ghost images and nightmares. It led to him having a total break down at work. He was again referred for help by the job. After taking some time off of work, he returned to a non-operational role for his final 12 months service. He said that he could not see any purpose in the role and that he “did not fit into the organisation any more”. He had been asked to do something with the the Forces volunteer police cadets and he later realised this new work had mixed with his grief for the loss of his operational role.
Mick said that he trusted the job and that Durham Police were great. He was open and honest and with the support of Occupational Health he attended therapy, trying EMDR. He reported that the sessions were weird and felt it was a bit of a waste of time but it seemed to help so he kept going. Then after a very short break and on the fifth session, something clicked and it all fell into place. He reported that his PTSD symptoms started to lessen. Over some more sessions and time, although he still got nightmares and constant reminders, it no longer affected him as badly and he was able to start functioning again.
He managed to complete his 30 years and left the uniform behind, landing a job with the national volunteer police cadet team. His comment “It never leaves you, all you can do is learn to live with it” is echoed by so many retired officers with PTSD. His philosophy is upbeat and positive about his experience. No one wants to suffer from PTSD, but he told me “I don’t want to forget it, it made me who I am.”
Mick is now out the job, enjoying his well deserved retirement. It has to be said that he was one of the lucky ones, not having to face ill health retirement. Durham Police looked after him and they should be congratulated for understanding and managing the situation so well.
This story is shared to show that it can be done, that organisations can manage this condition sensitively and with understanding. For those that worry and face a life changing condition such as PTSD there is hope and let’s hope that all forces can learn from this incident.
If this story has made you want to get your story out, perhaps to share another version please get in contact with me, I am more than happy to listen.