This section is specifically aimed at providing information to the families of officers, who may be experiecing difficulty and who are seeking advice on providing assistance to their loved one.
Trouble at Home?
There is little in our workforce to support families. Yet more often than not police work spills over into family lives. Even when your loved one is well and at work there are times when you are precluded from what goes on at work by your loved one. There will also be times when you are the listener for what didn’t go right at work. We encourage your family to act as a team to manage the 'spill over' from policing into your family life so that everyone gets something from the experience of living with a police person and in a policing family.
Going off work injured will change the usual dynamics of your family. It is not uncommon for some officers to become angered, distressed, or even complacent by their new physical or psychological limitations. Compared to any other professional job, police officers are very active and reactive to crisis and are exposed to the unpredictability of shiftwork and overtime. They tend to thrive on the variety and spontaneity of the job and pride themselves on being physically active in their job. Not being able to continue to work in this capacity and missing the buzz of a high energy environment would undoubtedly be a source of frustration for them.
Many officers feel they have let down their fellow officers by becoming unfit for work and not being as able as they have been. They may feel they are missing out on job opportunities or become frustrated by having to consult with a number of health professionals. Frustration may at times be directed at you. Try to talk these things out and get your loved one to acknowledge what and where the source of their frustration and anger lies. Don’t take on their frustrations – it’s more likely that you have done nothing wrong.
However, there may be more disruptive attitudes and behaviours, or negative coping strategies develop, that weren’t necessarily present in your family, such as alcohol misuse, gambling, or becoming too controlling. If you are feeling that you can’t solve some of these issues and they are present for longer than you like, don’t suffer. You may also experience an emotional response to the injury and its impact on you and/or your children or other family members. Seek help from external sources for any unwanted behaviours that seem to be more longstanding and harmful to you or your family. Your local GP can refer you to services that can assist you.
This is not to say that all negative things happen to you and your family during this time. For a lot of families you may only make minor adjustments during this time.
Whatever your experience is at this time, family members are critical support to an officer during this period. You are also the loved ones who are most likely to notice the changes in them outside of the professional setting. You will observe whether some of the treatment options and strategies are affective in helping your loved one manage their injury, behaviour and distress. What you notice in the recovery process is helpful feedback to the professionals to understand what works and what doesn’t.
Sharing Information About Your Officer
Sometimes officers may not want you to share information about their circumstances. Having sensitive conversations with your loved one may help encourage them to see the benefit of doing so. It can also allow you to share your experiences with them as part of encouraging a better recovery.
There are steps you can take before you approach your police officer’s practitioner/s:
- If you seek to share information with your officer’s treating practitioner/s about them you should gain their informed consent either through a letter or email.
- Notify the treating practitioner at the beginning of your discussion that you have informed consent from your officer to speak with them.
- You could also attend a session with your officer getting them to indicate their support for you to discuss family observations about the injury, the level of adaptation to injury and the impact and changes on your household overall.
- If you have concerns for yourself or your family during this time seek your own counselling outside of your officer’s practitioner for confidential reasons and to avoid any conflict of interest a practitioner may have in treating you both. Your GP may also be able to support you during this time while you adapt to caring for an injured officer.
Watch out for the "Sick Role"
Research shows that individuals who have the strongest coping skills and the least resentment toward their illness seem best able to gain strength and reject the sick role as a permanent identity.
What is the sick role?
- It is an over identification with being injured and sick that has a negative impact on the long term recovery process.
- It is generally attitude-based rather than having a physical basis to it.
- It usually involves an over use of negative self talk and dependent behaviour that inhibits the person from trying regular tasks or new ones or avoiding things that are known to improve their condition. You may notice an overuse of language such as: “I will always be like this”, “I am broken”, “I can’t do anything anymore because I’m sick”, “I’m no good to anyone anymore” despite the evidence presented from practitioners or watching what they can actually do that may suggest otherwise.
- People who get caught in the trap of becoming ill and feeling unmotivated may become overly dependent on you or another member and withdraw from usual routines and other social supports. Pretty soon you may see the person become comfortable in this place and difficult to shift in moving forward.
- It may even be filling a psychological need to be seen as sick.
- It is not necessarily a case of faking it. Often the person is unaware of how they are presenting.
The cluster of negative thoughts and actions are a symptom that something is wrong and requires addressing through an assessment by a professional to know exactly how to help remove some of the emotional, behavioural and/or physical blocks your loved one may be experiencing in their recovery. If you notice these signs in your loved one, seek professional assistance in order to put them back in control of the recovery process. Professionals can also help remove external barriers that do not assist your loved one in staying motivated to recover, such as providing greater accessibility and satisfaction with health care services and managing you and your loved one’s treatment expectations.