Article 2, September 2015
By DC Al Phillips
The following account has been written retrospectively with the help of my ever loving wife, Karen Phillips, and from anecdotes from medical personnel.
On 14th October 2014 I awoke feeling like I had woken with the worst Hangover imaginable.I looked around and had no idea where I was or who these strange people were around me. I walked in a daze to a locked door and was eventually allowed to eat something that resembled breakfast.
Later I was informed that I was in “The Linden Centre” and that if I left (by whatever means) I would be returned under 136 of the Mental health Act. This was for my own safety and just like Police custody the staff ensured there were no means available for me to commit suicide.
“OK” I thought, “I am here for the day, maybe two and then I can get home.”
I had a meeting with Dr Bisdee. “Yes, yes, and yes” I thought, but can I go home? “No you are here for 2 weeks” I was informed.
My wife visited me and I told her “How it was on the wing!” She kept reminding me that I was not in prison but that did not compute with me. One day I convinced myself that the male sharing a room with me was a Paedophile and I struggled not to want to kill him. An internal battle took place in my mind and I was found by staff uncontrollable on the floor.
How had this occurred? Let me tell you…
Statistics say 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health issue. Those of us in the Police force face a greater risk due to the nature of our profession. I was diagnosed with PTSD, Depression and Anxiety. I could tell you why, but I would prefer to concentrate on how this affected me and the people that in their own way helped me to cope.
“1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health issue”
I joined Essex Police in December 1986 and after many experiences, my mental health started to decline in 2013. There were no ‘Big Warning Signs’, just slight issues that became bigger and bigger. I was working very hard and at an intense level. I enjoyed what I was doing and although it was stressful I felt “ok”. This became an easy phrase to use when asked how I was feeling.
Every now and again I would get flashbacks to certain incidents. I would feel sick as the memories flooded back. Other times, I would feel an overwhelming sense of despair, feeling that life was just not worth it.
It’s hard to explain, but this was not just the normal everyday feelings one gets of feeling a bit down. This was like a huge boulder I had to carry around, one that I had to hide from people. “I am ok” I would say if anyone asked me how I felt.
In January 2014 my illness started to take hold more and more. In small increments I started to drink, a little too much most days. This helped me to sleep and forget the pain, but it also helped the illness get a stronger hold as I felt down and lethargic.
I then embarked on a 10 week boxing challenge which ended up with me in the ring!!! The 10 weeks were a nightmare for my wife as my mood swung from a euphoric high to a suicidal low. I trained hard but this was a means to avoid the bad thoughts I was experiencing. Some days I trained for 3 hours at an intense level and still came home depressed that I was fat and unfit.
I won my match, yet a week or so after I convinced myself I was not fit and that the fight was fixed. I did not want to acknowledge anything nice said about my achievement, I could only see a downside.
July 2014 onwards is still a blur to me. I am aware that I made irrational decisions and I had ever increasing suicidal thoughts. I recall nearly crashing at high speed and feeling bad that I had not died. This was not a wakeup call. Instead I dived deeper into the "Madness". My wife told me to go to the Doctors. “Why?” I said, “I am not ill, I am OK!!”
“I had ever increasing suicidal thoughts”
I started to hate certain people with no justification for it, but in my mind I could make minute incidents seem huge. My wife tells me I was in a huge rage and seemed depressed over the tiniest of incidents.
My behaviour at work became more erratic and on several occasions I was spoken to by supervisors. I wanted to tell them how I felt but the words would not come out. I gave little clues but these were not picked up on. "Is there anything wrong Alan?"
“No” I would reply, “I am ok”.
“I wanted to tell them how I felt but the words would not come out”
One day at work I said "I'd rather be dead than be here." I hoped someone would help me and dig a bit deeper, but I joke around to hide my pain, so people just laughed. I just could not tell them. I was worried they would laugh.
In 2014 I also started to self-harm. I would cut myself; feeling satisfaction that I had punished myself. It felt like I was watching myself like an out of body experience. I became adept at hiding my injuries.
Mentally I crashed in April 2014. I spent a week and a half unable to move, not talking and wanting to die. I finally saw a Dr and felt such relief when he believed me and prescribed pills. However, these had the side effect of temporarily worsening my mood. I spent a week or so in total despair.
“I finally saw a Dr and felt such relief when he believed me”
In May 2014 I self-harmed at home and broke down uncontrollably and I was taken to A+E. My Inspector visited me, so I smiled putting on a brave face. “Yes, I feel ok!!” The fact that he cared and supported me kept me alive more than he knew at that time.
In September 2014 I was reported as a MISPER. I had an overwhelming desire to die and took steps to do so. An inner strength came to me and I just sat and waited for someone to find me, to save me. I had what is called a disassociated episode, whereby my brain shut down. In my mind 1 hour passed before I was found, in actuality 8 hours had passed. As I was escorted home I saw the time & believed my wife had altered the clocks!!
So in October 2014 I was in hospital for two weeks, the care and support I received was great. A great friend offered to visit and just talk to me about football. Yes I know it was about Spurs (maybe that's why I get depressed!) but the thought was awesome, it kept me going.
“The fact that he cared and supported me kept me alive more than he knew”
Essex Police Officers and staff have been immense in my time of need. Kind words offered. People I hardly knew offering to chat and help me. Books sent to me to aid recovery. No one laughed at me, which was a huge fear of mine. No one doubted me, no one put me down. All I received was positivity. Many of you said you have had some time living with PTSD and Depression and have appreciated the support Colleagues have offered.
What can you do?Well, in the midst of my madness nothing you could say or do would make me feel any worse than I already did. I wanted to die how could you make me feel worse? To you, the offer of help and support may not seem to do much, but in the long run it really does!
It's easier to hide this from people. I usually just laughed and joked and said “Yes I am Ok”.
Dig deeper, keep asking! I gave little signs to supervisors that I was ill but inside I begged them to know.
I still have bad days but have developed coping strategies. This condition is not because we are weak, thoughts of suicide is not a sign that you are a coward. This condition is one suffered by the strong. When I was ill I could not tell anyone as I feared their reaction, So if you are suffering in silence try, try, try to tell one person, the support you will get can & will help.
Please see the full version of this article, complete with resources, here.