My years as a police officer didn't prepare me for these scenes – Mental Health At Work
09/09/2020

My years as a police officer didn’t prepare me for these scenes

Jane

Metropolitan Police officer

As part of the Our Frontline campaign to support the mental health of all those out working to protect us during the coronavirus crisis, we’ll be regularly sharing stories, tips and other thoughts about what life is like for them at the moment, in their own words.

Jane is an officer in the Metropolitan Police. Here she shares her experiences as part of a Pandemic Multi-Agency Response Team, responding to COVID-19-related deaths on a 24-hour basis.

As you might expect, this article contains some upsetting details.


Many years as a Police Officer didn’t prepare me for the feelings that I experienced and the emotional scenes I witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of March, I was deployed on a Pandemic Multi Agency Response Team (PMART) working with colleagues from across Policing, Fire and Ambulance Services, providing London with a 24hr response to COVID-19 related deaths in the community.

I was so fearful of appearing disrespectful, unkind or insensitive

I was shocked as I learned what was to be expected of me at the scene of each death. My unease was not so much centred on the fear of the sight of a dead body, but it was the requirement to coldly wrap the body up like a crime scene exhibit. My real concerns were for the families, I was so fearful of appearing disrespectful, unkind or insensitive, all of the things I am not!

Time after time I stood before the grieving families dressed like something that had just landed from outer space

A few sleepless nights followed before my first deployment and sitting around waiting for someone to die became my new state of readiness. The call-outs came thick and fast. Time after time I stood before the grieving families dressed like something that had just landed from outer space in full PPE. It felt like 100 degrees and the inevitable sweat and heat coming from my body fogged up my goggles. During my time on PMART, I saw and did things I hope I never have to do again. Many of the deceased did not pass away peacefully in their beds, many victims were found alone, in squalid conditions. They were mums, dads, sons, daughters, nans and grandads and worst of all a mum-to-be – all of them victims of this invisible, indiscriminate killer.

We are only now beginning to emotionally process some of the situations we had to deal with

Thankfully, I am no longer part of the PMART unit, as the operational need has passed. We are only now beginning to emotionally process some of the situations we had to deal with, the sadness is often overwhelming. There is a culture in the emergency services of dark humour and a lot of stigma. We tend not to talk about our feelings. Although we support each other it is reassuring to know that the Our Frontline service is there for us. We still need support and will do for some time to come – knowing someone is there for us 24/7 goes a long way.

Read more stories from workers on the frontline during the pandemic.