In late June of this year, PC Carl Tyrrell took his own life. Known to his colleagues as a committed dog handler, he was deeply attached to and proud of his work. With two marriages behind him, he harboured a lot of guilt and vocalised to his sister that he wished to end his life. Made to reapply for his job several times despite a firm reputation, policing budget cuts added the dark clouds in his mind.
As we get older, usually towards the end of our teens, most of us will cease to view our parents as the infallible figures that we once thought they were. They don’t have the answer to every question. They can’t fix every problem. And they aren’t without their own faults.
However, even as adults, a fair chunk of us will view emergency service workers with a similar level of awe that we once reserved for our mum or dad when they arrived in a dark hour.
Rescuing us from fires, putting away the criminals that rob communities of peace, and saving loved ones when their bodies fail them- it’s hard not to view them as something more than human.
As nice as it is to hold on to such a sense of wonderment when times are tough, these archetypes need to be chipped away.
It doesn’t matter what hat or colour uniform someone’s wearing, they’re still flesh and soul beneath. You may think this is obvious, but when was the last time you didn’t feel totally assured knowing there was a police officer just around the corner?
It’s true, it does take someone special to don the outfit and step into the worst parts of our towns and cities on a daily basis. They may possess that certain edge, but it doesn’t mean that they’re powered by sheer Viking bravado. Charging into the unknown and facing the bleakest sides of our world will eventually leave its mark on the steeliest of persons.
Human psychology has had many consistent factors throughout our evolution, and sadly, we’re still a culture that hasn’t pushed away the crueller sides of group mentalities. Get a large gathering of people together and chances are someone perceived as the weakest will be treated as such.
School playgrounds, locker rooms, offices- we’ve yet to find an area of modern life where we can truly let our guard down without being made to feel like a failure or outcast.
Imagine yourself being part of the strongest of the strong. A group of people that thousands of civilians rely on every day. Could you see yourself being totally open in a place fuelled by a sense of teamwork, bravery and strength?
It’s hard enough for teenagers or humble accountants to raise a hand and say ‘I’m not okay. I need help’. Can you imagine an emergency service worker saying such a thing, or even quietly stating that they’re taking time off to recover from the toll of their own thoughts while those beside them solider on?
It’s utterly vital that we turn our attention to those who arrive at car crashes and stare the worst of humanity in the face, all while being paid less and asked to do more.
These people will witness things the average person never will, and as such, some will suffer mental damages that we simply cannot comprehend.
We throw heaps of praise at the fireman who recovers from second degree burns, and we champion the officer who caught a bullet to save a member of the public.
The people and the press are ready to rain down words of encouragement at such events, but when it comes to someone stepping down from their position due to mental pressure, we only ever hear murmurs.
We’ve come a long way in the last decade alone in terms of accepting mental illness, but it’s still not enough. Our pity is only vocalised for the loudest and most obvious of cases.
If we truly view emergency workers as heroes, then why do we not acknowledge the toll of their efforts?
No man or woman comes back from the edge of the abyss with their former selves intact.
To see humanity at its most violent, its most depraved, its most irrational on a regular basis is to slowly lose any sane view of existence. Factor all this in with having a personal life on the side and those little black thoughts that appear at night to drag you down for no reason – and you’re wearing a chain around your neck of unfathomable weight.
PC Tyrell was one of these people. He lived the life of someone who was both a societal guardian and a regular human being. Most of us can just about maintain being the latter.
It’s a matter of understanding.
Understanding is something that should be as plentiful as praise, awe and pride when it comes to viewing the servicemen and women of the world.
There is no real Superman. Society is not a child’s village play set where each figure acts out their role- and that’s that. Shutting up and getting on with it is something that buries ladders, eclipses the light, and only paves a singular path that descends into the depths of the human psyche.
It’s vital that we dispel the illusion that there are humans who have backbones of raw iron and minds that allow the darkness to leave them unscathed. To not make such a conscious effort is to allow a brave face to become a terrifying mask that stares back at the wearer.
Adam Shaw – CEO of The Shaw Mind Foundation.