Helping Yourself

This section is specifically aimed at providing information and strategies for the family members of police officers to cope with the constraints of family illness, in a positive manner.

We know that individuals with positive coping strategies seem most likely to transition to wellness and enjoy maximum functional abilities.  Here are some suggestions as to what you can do to equip yourself for the journey:

Useful Strategies for Coping

Strategies for You
  • Learn as much as you can about the illness and/or injury. Knowledge is power and it can be used to assist you to make sense of the changes in your family situation, create realistic expectations on progress and recovery outcomes, recognise presenting signs and symptoms and identify unwanted or unhelpful behaviours in your loved one. This will help you develop effective coping strategies during this injury and recovery period.
  • Keep good records of appointment dates with professionals and who your loved one has been referred to or consulted with. This is a history you may need to refer to later.
  • Use your treating GP as key access point of coordination for all reports and assessments your loved one and family may have undertaken. With your loved one’s consent, your GP can then share this information with the next professionals they may be referred to.
  • Acknowledge that this time can be frustrating and that you and your loved one may have to tell the injury story numerous times to different health professionals. Remember they are trying to get the best outcome for you and your loved one in the recovery process. If there are other professional reports written, refer all the details to your GP for coordination and request that these reports are provided to the allied health professionals.
  • It is important that you stay healthy in this situation. Never underestimate the impact that managing a person with a psychological illness, such as anxiety and depression, can have on you and your family. Stay open to seeking professional assistance for yourself during this time. A qualified professional will be more than willing to offer you effective coping strategies that you can use to address the behaviours that you are seeing in your family unit and/or with your loved one. Addressing these things early will improve the outcome of the recovery process and can ease what happens at home.
  • If your officer’s reactions are hard for you to deal with directly then ask for some professional assistance to manage their behaviour during the rehabilitation process. Their reactions or behaviour could be a symptom that they need further professional assistance to help them cope. If your loved one is willing to include you then attend a session with them. Alternatively, leave a phone or email message with their treating practitioner to discuss how you can best deal with their reaction or behaviour. This information is important for professionals who may see some of the actions as a sign of ongoing distress or development of another illness. Alternatively, it may require an intervention to look at the impact the unwanted behaviour is having on the family.
  • If you feel unsafe at any time, trust your feelings and take steps to make yourself safe rather than try to change the person you are dealing with. You may need to move yourself to a safe location, e.g. stay with other family or supportive friends. Call for professional assistance. It is a good idea to keep handy the contact numbers for the professionals who are treating your loved one, including after hours contacts.
  • If you are unsure of the processes affecting your loved one, seek support and assistance from the Police Association of NSW. The Association can also refer you to external services that may be of assistance to you or your officer.
  • If you are limited geographically or prefer to use online services, there are some very good websites with supporting information. Click here to be directed to some useful references.
Strategies for the Family

It is a time of change for you and your family. Although it can be a difficult time, try to reconnect as a family unit by:

  • Make a point of having conversations about more than just police work and make it a long term habit in the family setting. There is more to life than the police badge and uniform. One of the risks of policing is over involvement in the job and in themselves and possibly alienation of the family unit. Over investing in the job can lead to disappointment when injured. Make sure you talk about more than just police work.
  • Work on staying open in communication with each other during this time.
  • Use this time to include your loved one in making decisions about your family whilst they are off work to avoid them slipping into the sick role. Alternatively, if your loved one becomes too controlling then take steps to address this directly in communication if you are comfortable to do so. You may want to allocate an aspect of family responsibility to them and be clear in what are still your responsibilities.
  • Recognise that there is some frustration about the limitations they experience and there is some grief in being injured and not being active in the policing profession that makes some officers feel very down about their current situation. Try to continue with as much normality in your life as you can.
  • Try not to be drawn into a cycle of hopelessness or the sick person role. Mental illness particularly can draw you into it. It is ok to focus on other members of the family during this time and other important relationships. Keeping good family ties and outside support is a must for protecting yourself during this period. This message carries over into not becoming too involved in your loved one’s work identity in general at the expense of losing your own.
  • Avoid expecting too little (not asking for anything and doing it all yourself) or too much (pushing too hard) from your loved one during this time. Let them adapt to the injury but encourage them to continue to overcome some of their challenges bit by bit. It is helpful for you to understand the treatment and return to work plans developed so that you get an understanding of what the professionals believe is expected of your officer. If you notice that they are comfortable with taking on more, then we encourage you to inform the relevant professionals so that the recovery process is properly designed for your officer and they can return to work successfully. Equally, report on what isn’t working.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to your loved one about changes the whole family can accommodate and if they are necessary. A good example for a psychological injury may be certain television programs or news programs may cause some anxiety so the family agrees to have the TV off at that time or to go into another room.
  • Resist the urge to take over or speak on behalf of your officer because you want to protect them from harm. It’s far more beneficial to encourage them to take an active role in their recovery process by scheduling appointments and taking part in family activities, such as cleaning up, watching a movie, or completing some of the routine family tasks no matter how big or small within the limits of the physical or psychological condition.
  • If your officer is having contact with colleagues from work you might like to talk to them about setting some boundaries. Work out who the key contact is and let him or her know what matters might be off limits at this point, e.g. if a psychological injury is present then talking about the last fatal or deceased a colleague went to may not be a good idea.
  • Find out from your officer who they have a good rapport with at their Command. You may be able to arrange with the Commander that this person be your officer’s contact officer. Conversely find out who they have conflict with to ensure that this is not the officer contacting them for progress reports.
  • Try to avoid having large amounts of alcohol readily available in the house. It is a depressant and can easily change attitudes from coping to not coping.
  • If your loved one talks of suicide don’t be afraid to discuss it with them. It will keep the communication and connection going. If there is any threat of self-harm or suicide act swiftly and report this immediately to your GP or other health professional. Use emergency numbers or 000 if need be outside of work hours. They will be able to get your loved one and family the best possible support to manage this situation.

Your Relationship & Wellbeing

Your Relationship
  • Make time for your relationship with your loved one outside of the focus of the injury.
  • Introduce protective factors to your regime and set limits. Take time out for yourself and don’t feel guilty for it. Managing your own stress levels is important during this time. Take some time to find a recreational activity that you can regularly schedule into your week, such as a coffee with a friend, yoga, a game of golf or gym activities, or picking up a hobby or interest group that helps you have some time out from being that person’s support. If necessary, explain the need for this with your loved one and gain his or her support.
  • Encourage your loved one to do the same. It might be the regular weekly attendance at a local sports game, a hobby, a short course or even a coffee club with other injured officers has proven to be helpful. 
  • If your loved one is your partner (as opposed to being the parent or sibling of an injured police officer) then make a point of having regular dates with your partner. Share a dinner or meal together that has conversation that doesn’t focus on the injury or the changes to your situation.
  • There is more time now with your loved one than when they were at work. For both parties to take responsibility, introduce actions and remain aware to take steps that encourage positive growth in your relationship.
  • Sexual intimacy may change during this time so using touch and words may be more important to display intimacy as part of maintaining partner bonds.
  • Look at what you have achieved together through this process, even if there have been times where there has been tension between you and your loved one.
  • If you are a police officer reading this, don’t forget to show your appreciation to your family for what they are doing for you in a time of healing and recovery. Don’t assume they already know. Receiving and hearing about your personal gratification is important to making your family feel secure and loved by you and increases the intimacy bonds with those that are supporting you in your time of need.
Your Wellbeing

How we perceive our current situation and the thoughts we have impact on how we cope and deal with adverse events. Practical strategies are a must during this time. It is helpful to commit to some key thought patterns and perspectives during this time, such as:

  • Certainly acknowledge that you may have difficult days. But leave them as days rather than think of your situation as never ending, hopeless and overwhelming.
  • Rather than focus on what isn’t working or what has changed, try to be mindful of some of the things you have achieved during this period. To help remain aware of this keep a diary or log of personal achievements, things related to their health and the injury or things that you have grown through as a family. Each day in the recovery process with your loved one is a step closer to recovery and coping with injury.
  • Goal setting. Set realistic goals in the recovery process with your loved one. Also set realistic goals at the personal level for your family. Things may have changed in the family but that does not mean you need to give up on planning the future and what you may want to achieve along the way. Be prepared to make changes depending on the progress of the injury. It’s more than ok to review and make changes on your family’s personal goals. Accept that this may happen.
  • Avoid getting drawn into the negative talk cycle. It is realistic to feel disillusioned or negative toward the situation, the police force or others during these times. However be aware that continued negative discussion over nothing going right will draw your loved one down into a negative spiral and ultimately undermine some of those good coping strategies and enjoyment they can obtain from outside influences.
  • Acknowledge their personal achievements in this time. Get into the habit of naming at least two things (big or small) that they have achieved in a week.
  • Give yourself some personal acknowledgment for the support you offer. You may even want to mark it with an external reward for yourself. Permit yourself some self care and give credit where credit is due.