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Police must be given the support they need

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 23/08/2016

Police are appealing for information.
Police are appealing for information.

There is no doubt that being a police officer in Northern Ireland during the past five decades was a hugely stressful job. Apart from the ever present danger to life, there were the horrific scenes that many officers witnessed.

The Troubles presented huge challenges to police officers and their job entailed them having to be present at incredibly distressing outrages - think Bloody Friday, Enniskillen, Omagh, or the many gruesome sectarian attacks which left multiple deaths.

But it was not just terrorism which left many police officers with mental scars which they found difficult to erase.

The deaths of young people in traffic accidents, domestic incidents which end in killings and abuse of children are the common workload of those we charge with keeping the peace and establishing law and order.

In 2005, some 5,000 former and serving police officers in Northern Ireland began legal action against the force for not doing enough to help them come to terms with the trauma they had experienced and which left them with post traumatic stress disorder.

But the action was later thrown out after a judge decided that from the late 1980s onwards there were sufficient resources in place within the RUC to help those in need.

Importantly, in at least one of the test cases the judge found that a macho culture existed within the force which led to many officers declining to seek help to erase their traumatic experiences and trying to face them down without professional help.

A former assistant chief constable yesterday told how he used to wash his hands at least 30 times a day, after being involved in an accident which had left him covered in blood. Fortunately, he had the mental resilience to come to terms with his behaviour without having to seek professional help.

But others are not so fortunate, either being more intensely affected by their experiences or not being as well equipped to deal with them.

It is therefore imperative that facilities are in place to help men and women who face challenges on a daily basis which are far beyond the experiences of most of us. They cannot simply shelve those experiences as others would after a bad day at the office.

What they see and attempt to resolve are often matters of life and death and those are bound to strain every fibre of their being. It can never be simply a case of drying their eyes or packing in the job.

Belfast Telegraph

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