Retired officer recounts depression battle


Counselling saved the life of a retired police officer during his depression battle.

The former sergeant from Northern Ireland had a career of distinguished service but at one stage considered shooting himself after emptying a bottle of vodka.

He came within inches of being killed by booby-trapped bombs in 1980's Londonderry, saw a military colleague with his limbs blown off and became estranged from his wife and two daughters because of work pressures and tragedy.

The 52-year-old said: "I just felt like I was walking through treacle, I felt like there was no future."

Despair deepened after retiring early on medical grounds aged 48 following unsubstantiated and unfounded workplace complaints.

He visited the Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust's offices near Belfast in a spur of the moment decision, met a counsellor called John Swift, and later began receiving therapy.

He said: "That man saved my life because I would have taken my life because I could not go any lower.

"I had lost my job and children, I had no partner, you lose your self-respect, any thought of dignity."

A retired sergeant has recounted his troubles with depression (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

The mental pressure started right at the beginning.

His baptism of fire as a relatively untrained reservist came in Londonderry in 1985, with the IRA's campaign at full-throttle.

"I was aged 18 or 19, carrying a side arm, a rifle and a black bag carrying 25 rounds, a flak jacket and riot helmet - that was going to a traffic accident.

"You could not go out without two military Landrovers with you with a top gunner, that was something like someone who had a burglary."

He felt overwhelmed and isolated from friends who could not understand what he was going through.

"I was  hardened, nearly ruthless."

He drove to work in his own car - a security risk - wondering if he would be shot by a sniper hidden near the roadside.

He later had to leave home because the IRA knew where he lived.

Psychological needs were addressed by passing a bottle around after work.

"No one said poor me because that would have been a sign of weakness," he said.

"You get to the stage where you think you are coping with this, that it is not a problem, that you think you are made of something special, that you were born to do this, that normal mortals could not cope."

Later he interviewed sex offenders, ignoring the urge to punch them in the face.

He said: "Looking into the eyes of some of them you are looking into the pits of hell, that they know nothing but death.

"There was just an aura that you wanted to go and vomit."

He became a supervising sergeant but felt "under siege" and was abrupt with colleagues.

Thoughts of investigating sex offenders intruded into his private life.

He said: "I was unable to bath my daughter."

He tried to persuade a boy whose sisters had been abused by their father to talk to him. He was on the verge of telling all.

"He hung himself."

Tragedy touched him again after a police officer he had spoken to about his work shot himself, for an unrelated reason.

"I never slept until the day of the funeral.

"I was waiting for his widow to get up and slap me and say I was responsible."