Stress takes heavy toll on police
By SAMANTHA TURNBULL
WITH macabre thoughts rolling around in her head and tears streaming down her face, Jenelle Sharman decided it was time to leave the police force.
The 37-year-old Tintenbar mother of two knows firsthand the pressure facing local police officers who yesterday had a minor win in their battle for more resources.
Two new Tweed/Byron highway patrol officers will start work on Monday after authorities buckled under the weight of threatened industrial action.
But Jenelle says the issue of police stress cannot be solved overnight.
"In the space of 12 hours you can be called to an assault, a death, a break-in. You are forced to process a lot of different feelings and wear a lot of different hats," she said.
"It doesn't matter how removed you try to be. Over a period of time it catches up with you. You see things most people would never imagine."
In April 2006, after five months of stress leave, the Detective Senior Constable left her 11-year career to take over Lismore beauty clinic Destiny.
She said a combination of family issues and a string of traumatic jobs led to her downfall, which involved constantly replaying disturbing images in her mind and breaking down in tears.
However, she insists she misses the job.
"I loved being a police officer and I put everything into it," she said.
"I've thought about going back when my kids are grown up, but I couldn't do it unless changes were made."
Those changes, Jenelle believes, are the responsibility of the NSW Government.
"It needs to start at the academy when young recruits first begin training," she said.
"They should be taught by experienced police officers, not academics, and better prepared for what it's really like."
Jenelle believes the age limit for entering the force should be increased, so officers barely out of their teens aren't thrown into overwhelming situations.
She also backed calls for more funding in regional areas.
"There are too many restraints caused by a lack of funding," she said.
"We need more police, we need to send them to more courses, they need better resources and incentives to do well."
However, Jenelle said what was most crucial to combat stress was constant emotional support.
"There needs to be more of an awareness of stress and more talking about the trauma of jobs," she said.
"Support is there when you cry for help, but it needs to be there in your face all the time. Officers also need to be trained to look for the signs in their colleagues before they break down."