A South Tyneside police officer has spoken out about his battles with mental health to encourage other emergency services personnel to seek support.
Pc Karl Peterson was 40 when he joined Northumbria Police as a response office and was full of excitement about protecting people in the North East.
He was posted to Southern Area Command where he thrived alongside the rest of his shift but seven years into his service the constant strain of dealing with emergency blue light calls began to take its toll.
It wasn’t until he sought the help of Northumbria’s Occupational Health Unit (OHU) that he was able to get professional help from a counsellor and return to work as a Neighbourhood Beat Manager in South Tyneside.
Now he’s been appointed as one of Northumbria Police’s 30 Blue Light Champions who have received specialist training to recognise the signs of poor mental health in their colleagues and offer advice to those who need it.
Karl, who works in Hebburn and Jarrow Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: “When I joined the police I felt alive with excitement and what the future held for me. I could not wait to get to work whatever shift I was on.
“But after a few years things slowly started to change. I felt like I was on an iceberg and it was slowly starting to melt. Eventually, after I had tried to patch it up a dozen or so times, I was left standing on an ice cube slipping into the water.
“I was nearly 50 and I was becoming very tired, I wasn’t sleeping, I was having arguments at home, arguments with supervision and I turned to drinking. I realised I had nothing more to give and little fuel in the tank to continue. “
He added: “The final straw was at the beginning of one night shift when my collar number was called on the radio. I started to shake, my heartbeat increased and I began sweating. At this point I knew I could not continue.
“I went to OHU and actually broke down. I realised I needed professional help and my turning point was when I fully engaged with a counsellor during one-to-one sessions. They helped me steady myself and eventually I returned to the station.
“Now I want to give something back by becoming a Blue Light Champion and giving my colleagues the peer support that was not available to me when I was at my lowest point.”
A recent survey by Mind revealed that 9 in 10 emergency services staff and volunteers have experienced stress, low mood and poor mental health at some point whilst working.