Wednesday, 19 September 2018
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‘Stigma needs to change’: WA cop’s suicide shines light on mental health

‘Stigma needs to change’: WA cop’s suicide shines light on mental health
05 Jul
3:23

“He loved his job, but at times he did his job too well.”

Scott Blanchard (in the blue jumper) with his three kids and wife Justine.

Scott Blanchard (in the blue jumper) with his three kids and wife Justine.

Photo: Justine Blanchard

One of Scott’s best mates, Darryl Rule, described the 45-year-old father of three as a dedicated and professional officer who was highly regarded by his peers.

But Mr Rule said he believed his mate, a 20-year veteran of the force, did not seek the help he needed because he would have been fearful of being “singled out.”

“Men and women are very proud, especially in that line of work and it’s all about teamwork,” he said.

“I’ve spoken to several other police officers who have mentioned that they do not want anyone knowing about their struggles with depression.

“When I asked why, they said it was a fear of being singled out and labelled and put behind a desk.

“The fact is though every organisation needs improvement in this area, not just WA Police.

“There is this stigma that needs to change and more understanding of the effects of mental health.

“We need to get the message out there that there is help to those that need it and they have our full support.”

Darryl Rule with his mate Scott Blanchard.

Darryl Rule with his mate Scott Blanchard.

Photo: Darryl Rule

Last year the WA Police Union spoke out about the”peak” in police suicide rates and called for a national inquiry into the number of officers dying across Australia.

WAtoday understands that in the event of a critical police incident, an automatic email is generated and sent to officers that tells them where they can access help.

It’s understood no personalised information is sent, nor personal contact made from the WA Police Health and Safety Division.

Recently, WA Police Union field officers have been getting notified of critical incidents and have been attending scenes to assist officers involved.

Officers have the option of “self-referring” themselves by calling Health and Safety.

But sources with experience in the area say this is unlikely to happen due to it being recorded on their file.

In an article published just last month in the police union’s edition of Police News, field officer Carl Grossetti said recent feedback from officers indicated they were “afraid” to deal with the Health and Safety Division on matters impacting their mental health because it would be reported internally and could “adversely” affect their career development.

Detective Sergeant Blanchard’s death and the lead up to it will come under the spotlight in several weeks when the WA Coroner’s Court holds a coronial inquest.

The inquest will begin on August 15.

Justine Blanchard said she was hopeful the inquest could lead to some positive changes, as well as more mental health awareness for police officers.

“Hopefully, we can find out what was going on beforehand and create more awareness and encourage officers to seek help when they need it,” she said.

“Hopefully, something good comes from it.”

Union president George Tilbury said he hoped the inquest would “shine a light on the mental and emotional impacts of policing and what can be done to improve the wellbeing of officers.”

“We anticipate the Coroner will scrutinise what programs and supports the WA Police Force and other agencies have in place to adequately look after our members,” he said.

Blue Hope, a not-for-profit group whose aim is to highlight police officers’ mental health issues nationally, has also welcomed the inquiry.

Representatives from the organisation came to Perth last year to launch a 24-hour helpline for officers and their families shortly after a WA officer took her own life.

“If a person the calibre of Scott Blanchard felt they were out of options, what does that say about the current systems in place?” Blue Hope founder and director Andrew Ayres said.

WA Police declined to provide any comments for this story, but told WAtoday last year that “the psychological health and wellbeing of all WA Police personnel is a significant issue.”

“WA Police has a number of strategies to help officers prepare for such experiences as well as providing professional support when officers need it most,” a spokesman said at the time.

Phil Hickey

Phil is a Fairfax Media journalist based in Western Australia and covers court, crime and police

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