15 May 2021
Kaj Bartlett is an Inspector with Sussex Police and a works full time as a Fed Rep with a focus on equality and wellbeing. In 2008-2017, Kaj experienced mental health difficulties due to workplace stress – she ended up needing a cumulative eight months off work.
For Mental Health Awareness Week, Kaj explained how her mental health struggles, and the approaches to recovery she took, have made her a better police officer and Rep.
Everyone is different, but for me much of my difficulty was rooted in the pressure I put on myself. I think as police officers we can sometimes be stretched by the demands the public and the organisation put on us. Combining this with the expectations I was putting on myself, I would reach points where I was overwhelmed.
Police officers have very high standards. This is, on the whole, a good thing - but we work for a very demanding public and Forces who have very high expectations of us. Combining your own high standards with others’ high expectations, plus the demands of a role where you might have hundreds of different responsibilities and processes, can easily lead to burnout.
In my case, it led to a cycle where I would be in a role and do okay. Then things out of my control would pile up (for example, people not replying to emails, inconsistent decision making at higher levels, conflicting expectations of people), I’d get frustrated, and my work and home life would suffer. I think of it like a Jenga tower – you have all these blocks that represent different bits of your life, and when these get shifted around or removed during your life, the tower falls over.
I tried different mental health services before I came across something which worked for me. Workplace Strategy Coaching was much more useful for me than Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or other talking therapies I’d used. It helped me identify how and, more importantly why, I was getting to these crisis points, and helped me to set up personal support methods, scaffolds and strategies to prevent difficulties in the future.
The good thing about having the coaching is that not only has it helped me personally, it’s also made me a better police officer and Fed Rep. The coaching has allowed me to really and truly understand myself and my own mind, which then makes it easier to reach out to other colleagues in crisis, to understand how they work, and help them. After all, I’ve been in that situation.
I would encourage anyone who is having difficulties, no matter how small, to talk to someone. Don’t be worried about speaking about your fears, either. It’s an important part of the conversation, and, as I found through Workplace Strategy Coaching, understanding yourself can make life-changing differences.