Special Guest Blogger:
Former police officer, author and motivational speaker
Please note this blog contains a description of a violent incident and may be disturbing for some readers.
If you need support or advice, please phone one of these national 24/7 crisis services:
Lifeline: 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 79 www.mensline.org.au
beyondblue: 1300 22 4636 www.beyondblue.org.au
Depression & PTSD hit me in unexpected ways and at an unexpected time
I’m a Police Officer who was shot but this is not when I experienced depression and PTSD.
A couple of years after the shooting I had what I thought to be less challenging experiences and was diagnosed with depression and PTSD. Only afterwards did I understand how and why it affected me.
I had been a member of the SA Police Special Tasks And Rescue (STAR) Group. We were responsible for the safe resolution of high-risk and violent incidents. It is a seriously high-stress environment.
In 1994 we went to arrest an offender and he started shooting. I was shot 14 times in less than 5 seconds and lay on the ground for 3 hours before rescue. If I were ever going to suffer anxiety, depression or PTSD, I would have expected to do so following this event.
After this terrible event, I was eventually psychologically cleared to return to work, by renowned trauma psychologist, Professor Sandy McFarlane, even though we both knew I wouldn’t be physically fit enough for at least 18 months. He also reinforced how depression and PTSD might still affect me in the future and explained what I needed to do.
A couple of years after the shooting my marriage broke down and we separated. It was my choice but I hated it. I desperately missed 24/7 access to my children, being able to see them and hug them. I was living alone. I had visitors and work colleagues but still felt lonely. My 13-year-old Rottweiler dog died around the same time. It was really tough but others had gone through marriage break ups so I thought I could too.
During this time I was also fighting to get back into STAR Group. I knew I had to prove my capability both physically and psychologically. My superiors told me that they wanted me to pass the tests to return to STAR Group but then it seemed as if they were making the tests impossible once testing got underway.
Professor McFarlane had psychologically cleared me, so surely there should be no question about that.
I had been assessed by an Occupational Therapist as being capable of completing all STAR Group tasks, the same as everyone else, so surely there should be no question about that.
When my fitness and agility was tested, I passed with flying colours. To my surprise I was tested again with a harder test and again passed. I was tested yet again with an even harder test. This seemed to continue forever but I passed every test and went back into STAR Group.
Even though I had passed everything, I felt that people at the top (my superiors) were always watching and waiting for me to show signs of failure, ready to pounce. With everything else that was happening, the stress was building up but I really didn’t recognise any signs of depression and PTSD.
What I eventually recognised was that I wasn’t sleeping well and that I was worried about constant scrutiny. I was no longer training as hard as I had in the past; I didn’t have any interest in talking to people unless I had to; and I wasn’t eating well either. For a couple of months I only cleaned my teeth about 4 times. I don’t know why but it didn’t even occur to me that anyone would notice. I now know these are signs of depression but I didn’t recognise as that at the time.
I eventually decided I needed to fix something and I was convinced that it was just my diet. I went to the doctor and specifically asked him to give me a blood test and tell me what vitamins I needed to add to get my energy back again.
To my surprise I was asked to complete the depression / PTSD questionnaire. I was diagnosed with mild depression and PTSD. This shocked me!
However, I always knew and accepted that depression and PTSD might affect me. It can affect anyone.
I didn’t try to say “I’m too tough for this”. I didn’t fight it, I didn’t try to deny this could happen to me. I immediately knew that catching this early was a good thing and resolving it was always possible. So I embraced and did everything the doctor recommended for me.
He advised me about the signs and symptoms to look out for and strategies to manage them and I continued to work in STAR Group, doing what I loved and left some years later.
I speak openly about my experience with depression and PTSD. I reinforce to all that anyone can experience it. It is often not triggered by a single incident, but the accumulation of stress or stressors and it can have an affect at any time.
I now recognise low periods in my life, when stress could be leading to depression. However, I now have an awareness of when to deal with it myself, when I need to talk to a friend and when I need to seek professional advice.
Depression and PTSD affected my life but through the right advice, assistance and management it’s not controlling my life anymore.
By Derrick McManus
Former police officer, author and motivational speaker
Derrick McManus – Former police officer, author and motivational speaker
Derrick McManus is an author and motivational speaker on the importance of resilience and durability, drawing on his experiences at South Australia’s longest siege in 1994. A member of the South Australia Police for over 30 years, Derrick’s awards include the Australia Day Young Citizen of the Year Award for extensive work in the community and the inaugural SA Police Bravery Medal.
Mr McManus now lectures groups on the durability of human performance and is a White Ribbon supporter. He regularly speaks to groups of men about the need to avoid reacting to situations with violence.
2018 Mental Health Week: October 7–13
Special Guest Bloggers