My partner had been a police officer for several years when we met.
Having been through some traumatic experiences in my life, I loved that I could tell him about the things I’d been through. He dealt with that knowledge in quite a composed way, and without feeling distressed by it.
It didn’t take long before I understood why he could handle hearing about trauma: he faces it all the time.
While he doesn’t tell me everything that happens on a shift, he shares a lot when he comes home. And it can be confronting to hear how casually he can discuss the terrible things he’s seen, the things that I feel would be really difficult situations to deal with.
There’s one incident he told me about that has stuck with me forever. He told me about a fight that started at the pub in a local town, and which became a brutal bashing at another location. When my partner got there, he and the paramedics discovered injuries that were so bad – the back of this guy’s head had been caved in and he was barely alive. When my partner told me this story, he detailed it all in sequence, and there was no emotion at all.
I tell him about the things that have happened in my work day – doing admin – and the way he talks about his job is similar.
Other first responder partners that I’ve spoken to have indicated that it’s just the way the communication happens. They talk about their job, but they don’t really recognise the severity of what they deal with.
I think these incidents happen so often that it becomes something that doesn’t actually affect him at the moment. I’m really well aware, though, that it might affect him down the track. There are some signs that I see now – like his irregular sleep patterns, and the circumstances around the times when he’s not sleeping well – that concern me.
I try to talk to him about that, but he won’t acknowledge that there might be a problem. He doesn’t express any emotion about it, or about many things at all.
I think there’s a level of emotional shutdown that has to occur to be able to do those kinds of jobs, and it gets carried home.
Sometimes I find it really, really difficult. I’m worried that long-term mental health issues are probably going to be on the cards for him.
As told to Fortem Australia
Please note: It is important for first responders and their family members to build mental fitness and set up support systems now. This can help to reduce the risk factors to mental health challenges now and in the future.
If you need immediate support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.