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I am a dedicated police officer of 20 years and like everybody I have my faults. But there is one that is hidden and can be destructive. I am a compulsive gambler.
Last year I bet on a football game. An hour before the match I took out my last £200 from a credit card - I’d once again managed to max out another card. I’d re-mortgaged several times, had countless loans, umpteen credit cards, lost inheritances, borrowed and that’s even though I’d been in paid employment every month without fail since I was 16. And now once again, it had come to this. The team I’d bet on lost, but that bet was the best that I had placed in 30 years, because it was my last.
Debt and constant stress were something I managed to live with and were part of the addiction. I’ve tried to estimate how much money I have lost. It’s impossible to tell, but it would be more than a life changing amount if I was to get it back and would swamp any retirement sum I’ll be due in the future. But the amount a compulsive gambler loses isn’t comparable to what they earn; it’s relative to what they have at their disposal. They will eventually bet until there is nothing left. And that’s when the real problems start, because, there is always a way to finance a bet; borrowing from others, selling personal items, loans, credit cards, remortgaging, blowing inheritances. I’ve done all of these and some multiple times.
So, I am convinced that I am not alone and that other officers have also found it a struggle to get the help and advice required due to the restrictions caused by the “job”. Police officers are so at risk of this addiction. For all sorts of reasons it can be an extremely stressful employment, but it can also be quite isolated with supervision of whatever rank not actually being aware there is a problem. Or them being aware of the situation but not knowing how to deal with it, finding it difficult to understand or relate to the issue at hand.
After many half-hearted attempts to quit gambling, I eventually came to a point where I had to stop. I didn’t know where else to turn because I did not want my issue becoming common knowledge. My help eventually came from Gamblers Anonymous.
Gambling addiction is a serious mental health problem, which affects millions of men, women and children throughout the world. I’m fortunate to have finally realised my problem before I self-destructed. It can be a silent assassin because few people will ever know that a compulsive gambler is a compulsive gambler until the cracks or problems start to appear. Least of all themselves.
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It was my childhood dream to be a police officer and when I joined the force I was delighted. I had some debts from before I signed up, which I had been slowly paying off. However, my salary was lower than my previous job and I soon got to the point where I was struggling to pay my debts and make ends meet.
“Like most dads I wanted to give my family the things they enjoy; things like day trips out and dinners at restaurants. But with only £60 in the bank after my debt repayments were taken care of, I was struggling to provide even the basics like food or petrol for the car.
“The stress was eating away at me. I lost my appetite; the weight fell off me and the world seemed dark; all I could see was my debts. It was affecting my work; I would be talking to people then just stop and go blank because I was so stressed. I kept blaming myself and it put a huge amount of stress on my relationships. Because of the stigma around debt I didn’t feel like I could tell my parents as it was so shameful to me. My wife knew the situation, but she was the only person; I was carrying this around inside of me like a weight. I know now that I didn’t need to be ashamed – people do get into debt. But back then, I wasn’t thinking clearly.
“One option was to leave the force, but I never even considered it. I had worked too hard to achieve my dream, there’s no way I was going to leave a job I loved. I just had to find a way to make it all work.
“The day came when I knew I needed help. I contacted my local Federation and the Secretary asked me in for a meeting. We had a good discussion and they were so supportive. I was referred to PayPlan, a company that will manage your debts for you. They went through my finances with a fine tooth comb and then worked with the lenders to arrange affordable monthly repayments.
“Now, a year on I’m not only paying my debts off but I’m saving money each month too. I used to dread pay day because I’d just watch the money drain from my account and now, I’m saving money, it’s a world from where I was.
“To anyone who is in a similar situation, I would say: ‘you are not alone. Please reach out to people that can help’. Ignoring your situation won’t change it, it won’t go away on its own and it will eat you up. For your own mental health, speak to your local Federation. The email I originally wrote to mine sat in my drafts for weeks before I pressed ‘send’, but I can honestly say reaching out was the best thing I’ve ever done.
“When you are in this situation you feel like you are all alone, when you're not. It takes courage to speak out especially about debt, and even if it’s not about your debt, even if it’s about your personal life or mental health, the Federation will help and support you. If you don't speak out they won’t know. So, take that one step forward and you will see the difference. A problem shared is a problem halved.
“Everything has been turned around. I have my life back; my wife has her husband back and my kids have their dad back”.
- Anonymous officer
As part of our month-long focus on financial wellbeing, Belinda Goodwin, Secretary of our wellbeing sub-committee, explains how the Federation can offer help to members who have financial worries. As part of our ‘Hear Man Up, Think Man Down’ campaign, Belinda explains that financial help and advice is available through the Federation for everyone who needs it.
Fed members have worked tirelessly through this pandemic and faced a challenge unlike anything policing has experienced before. At the same time, many officers face financial difficulties as partners lose jobs or take a cut in wages due to the economic havoc wrought by COVID-19. With Christmas fast approaching, and the focus on buying presents for friends and family, debt is an inevitable consequence of the festive season for many.
As police officers, financial worries sit alongside the added pressure of regulations which address debt, and we cannot simply not discharge a lawful debt. This can be a huge concern for officers who get into debt through no fault of their own. No-one wants to worry about a visit from the Professional Standards Department as well as debt collectors and creditors.
I know all too well that the stress caused by financial worries can be deadly. With most of the death by suicide incidents I attended in response policing, there was often an element of debt around the tragedy. Therefore, the same overwhelming circumstances that drove people to take their own lives are being faced by hard working Police officers every day.
Throughout December, we want to get the word out that there is help available. So, we've joined up with a number of organisations to provide members with information about financial help through a series of informative videos and articles which we will be sharing. You can also find contact details on our financial support page.
If you are facing an issue with debt, the Fed can assist. Please talk to your local Fed rep and we will make sure you get the help you need - not just during the Christmas period, but all year round. PFEW is here to help so pick up your phone or pop into your local Fed for a chat.
Let's make 2021 the start of your financial wellbeing journey, so debt becomes a thing of the past.
Let’s be honest, police officers can be a cynical bunch; not surprising when you see what society throws at us! But when we talk about wellbeing you can often hear the moans and feel the scepticism. Yet the reality is, wellbeing in policing is very much on the agenda. It’s being talked about across all forces and there are pledges being thrown around all over the place. The fact it’s being talked about is a good thing, it’s important. But, does all this talk actually mean anything?
At a local level there are many good pieces of work going on around wellbeing, whether that’s via the Federation or the force, we shouldn’t ignore how far we’ve come. At a national level the National Police Wellbeing Service was set up, also known as Oscar Kilo. It was set up to help all within policing to understand how to build personal resilience and to feel confident in speaking up when support is needed. It has the Blue Light Wellbeing Framework and uses academic research to show what works and what doesn’t.
Without a doubt, we’re in a much better place than we have been, but is that good work being felt where it’s needed most? Sadly not. There is still a feeling that wellbeing, whatever that means to individuals, is a postcode lottery. For too long wellbeing was just a tick box exercise; to many it hasn’t been as meaningful as it could or should be. This means that sometimes, despite genuine best efforts, the support being offered to somebody won’t be seen as support. Those in need of help often hide away, not wanting to face the issues they have. As time goes on their work could suffer, they may not want to mix with their colleagues and as a result are seen as anti-social and then the issues just get worse and the spiral begins. These officers can often be labelled troublemakers, a sad reflection of the world we live in.
The tone of a force is set by the Chief Constable, their values are felt by all. If they want wellbeing to be a genuine priority, then it will be. Putting posters up about wellbeing doesn’t mean you can tick the box and say job done, you have to invest in it. Our people are our most important and most expensive resource; investing in them and their wellbeing should be an easy decision. I know many forces are doing good things, sadly this is not always felt by those who are in most need the support. We need to understand why this is the case and unblock the blockers; it’s not that difficult.
Policing is a full on job, it’s relentless and 2020 has added to that pressure like never before. Colleagues are knackered, they are working long hours, being vilified in the media for doing an almost impossible job which tests the most resilient of us. The pandemic has affected us all, in one way or another. And if all that wasn’t enough, this doesn’t take into account of what is going on in officers’ personal lives. Police officers are human beings, when they take home the horrors of what they have seen at work it has an impact. Combine that with personal struggles at home and it can be a very unhealthy mix. My message to my colleagues is to recognise you’re not invincible, ask for help if you need it. In those difficult moments it’s easy to think nobody cares, and no one will listen, but they do and they will. There are good people within policing and beyond who can help, you are never alone.
At Christmas those who are struggling can feel incredibly lonely; it doesn’t matter how many people you are surrounded by, that feeling of isolation can be very real and very painful. I’ll be really honest, it will be difficult for me this Christmas. I lost my mum in August, somebody I was very close to and her loss has devastated me. I knew I was struggling so have reached out for help and I’m sure with the support and understanding of my close friends and my family I will get through this, but it doesn’t stop me dreading Christmas. There are many colleagues in a similar position, dreading Christmas for many reasons. It’s important we recognise this and make sure we are there for each other.
It’s been said many times, but it really is okay to not be okay. If you need help and support it is available, please don’t suffer in silence, reach out and the support will be there if you want it. Policing is a tough, challenging and often unforgiving job, this is why it is so important we are there for each other.
I have attached a number of links which may be of help, please ask for help if you need it. You will also have support available via your local Federation and your force's employee support programme if you need it.
This time of year can be challenging for many and it is even more difficult to see light at the end of the tunnel during a global pandemic.
This month we want to encourage officers who are struggling to make ends meet, to seek support and realise that there is help available.
I have been there myself – as a student officer I was a single-parent and had sleepless nights worrying about money. If only I knew then what I know now. There is no shame in admitting to others that times are hard – asking for help and support is the most positive thing you can do, not least for your own mental health and wellbeing.
Money worries can eat away at you – cause you to feel depressed, isolated, destroy your confidence, relationships at work and home, interfere with your family time – the list goes on.
We want to help you manage your financial stress and we will be shining the light on where to get help and support – keep an eye on our website, social media channels and look out for the next edition of POLICE magazine.
Some officers who have struggled financially have offered to share their stories and we will be publishing these this month. I have no doubt that their experiences will resonate with many - inspire and give hope that there is a way through these difficult times.
Being part of the police family means that you are eligible for a host of discounts – we will be shouting about some outstanding deals, such as those available via the Blue Light Card.
You may need some help managing your monthly income and outgoings and there are organisations that can provide the tools to put a plan in place around manageable monthly repayments, leaving you with enough to live on each month. You can find more information on our Financial Wellbeing pages.
Many officers worry about admitting that they are in financial difficulty for fear of jeopardising their job. The truth is that declaring your financial situation to professional standards can alleviate that vulnerability – again a positive step towards getting back on track. And don’t forget that you can reach out to your local rep or branch board to support you with that too.
Talking and sharing the challenges you face helps everyone – first and foremost yourself and your family. Our Hear ‘Man Up’, Think ‘Man Down’ campaign, calls for people to talk more openly about mental health and this features in all our messaging, across all police disciplines.
Let’s be there for our colleagues – if someone looks to be struggling, please talk to them and check they are OK.
It’s a difficult time of year but together we can approach 2021 with fresh optimism.