Damaged by the extreme situations they’re repeatedly exposed to, Sergeant Mark Andrews — who lost four cop mates to suicide — said more help is needed.
Damaged by the extreme situations they’re repeatedly exposed to, Sergeant Mark Andrews — who lost four cop mates to suicide — said more help is needed.

Trauma on the job and suicide of mates took their toll

Mark Andrews loved being a police sergeant although over two decades he saw terrible things that haunted him - car accidents, violence and identifying bodies of children.

But the suicides of four mates in 2013 was the final blow.

"Their deaths were a big wake-up call, and I remember at the time thinking I don't want to end up like that," Mr Andrews, now 51, said.

"You feel so alone with your thoughts and feelings and think something is wrong with you.

"Especially with a group of mates you're staying around with, it would've been a sign of weakness to admit what you were going through."

Having joined the police force aged just 18, the father-of-three said he had "no idea" what he was in for and wasn't prepared to deal with a child's death on his first day on the job.

Mark Andrews when he first joined the police force in 1988. Picture: Supplied
Mark Andrews when he first joined the police force in 1988. Picture: Supplied

"I lost my identity the day I joined the police. My first encounter with a dead body was when I was taken to Westmead morgue and watched an autopsy being done on a baby," he said.

"Another time I had a lady die on me …. her partner was behind me dead and she was telling me: 'Please don't let me die'.

"We just dealt with the emotions by drinking a carton of beer and going home - there was no debrief."

In another incident, the former cop recalls attending a double fatal crash as a new parent, which had a "profound effect" on him.

"Everyone has that one job that just breaks you. That was the one that broke me. I had done over 10 years of work at that point and there were plenty of fatalities I had been to," he said.

"But this incident happened when my glass was full and it tipped it over … it was the first one I attended as a family man."

 

Mr Andrews said police officers need to be better supported.

He said discharged officers who ask for help in their darkest hour are instead mired in red tape and long delays by insurance companies.

"I feel like I've been given a life sentence and I just have to carry and manage my PTSD until I die," he said.

"There's no support whatsoever. I'm a grown man scared of going to sleep … it's just not normal."

A nationwide survey by Beyond Blue found 11 per cent of police had probable PTSD, compared with 4 per cent of the general population.

There have been a number of police who have taken their lives while on duty or at a station recently, including Sergeant Matthew Theoklis who was found dead in December in an office at the Sydney Police Centre in Surry Hills.

Sergeant Matthew Theoklis who was found dead at the Sydney Police Centre in Surry Hills.
Sergeant Matthew Theoklis who was found dead at the Sydney Police Centre in Surry Hills.

Over the years, the NSW Police has been rocked by several high-profile cases of officers taking their lives while on duty, including NSW Homicide Detective Steve Leach, who shot himself in the armoury at NSW Police Headquarters in Parramatta in 2004.

A coronial inquest into the suicide of Detective Sergeant Ashley Bryant put a spotlight on the stress endured by police officers. The father-of-three took his life in 2013 near Byron Bay.

He had listed 72 traumatic incidents he had been exposed to in his time in the force.

Lifeline 13 11 14

Originally published as Trauma on the job and suicide of mates took their toll

Ex-cop Mark Andrews suffers from PTSD and thinks better support is needed. Picture: Tim Hunter
Ex-cop Mark Andrews suffers from PTSD and thinks better support is needed. Picture: Tim Hunter
Sergeant Theoklis, known as ‘Theo’, leaves behind his three-year-old twin daughters.
Sergeant Theoklis, known as ‘Theo’, leaves behind his three-year-old twin daughters.


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