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Head to Head Walk – Mick’s Story

Head to Head Walk – Mick’s Story


When Mick Cummins joined the police force in December 1976 he could never have imagined the circumstances which would cause him to retire from the job. When I signed up when I was 19 I think it was to serve the queen and crown and something else and something else but no one ever mentioned mental health to me. You know, I was 19. In 1976 terms like mental health and well-being just weren’t part of conversation. And Mick’s motivations for joining, were just like everyone else’s. He wanted a better life. I worked on droving camps and stuff like that and growing up on the farm, I knew it was a better life. I knew it was more reliable in terms of an income. And I loved every minute of it. Despite his love of the job problems were starting to arise. Like all officers, Mick was exposed to difficult and confronting situations on a daily basis. He thought that the solitude of country policing might ease the burden and make it easier to cope. But it didn’t. Probably one of the things, I was unwell then and didn’t recognise it. And I looked at, if I worked by myself, then I could deal with the issues by myself. But it was just wrong. It was a fallacy. Mick remembers working highway patrol in Mansfield. You’d go out to these absolutely horrendous jobs and you would get back in the car, and you were it, by yourself. It was just you, you were one up. That’s the way we policed in those days. I didn’t have to talk to anyone about the job. I could just finish my shift. Go back, sign my kit off. Go home. You know deal with it the best that I could. So, after 30 years of protecting the community Mick left the job broken and in need of some help. The onset of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is different for everyone. For Mick, it was a build up of incidents which ultimately became too much. It’s that whole bucket effect where the bucket gets filled up to a certain point and then it overflows. And if you don’t get that assistance early, then when that bucket flows over then you’re coming from behind all the time. Mental health issues can have far reaching effects. It’s not just a personal issue. It’s family issue. That’s one of the problems with a mental illness. Unless there’s someone that says, “Hey look, go and get some treatment,” then you just continue on your merry way and then you end up with these really bad outcomes that are they’re not only bad for the individual, they’re bad for the family… Many former police officers struggle with financial pressures alcohol and drug dependence and family breakdowns. There’s huge stresses on relationships. And sometimes, the old cliché is that it’s just the job, you know it’s part in parcel. But it isn’t that. It’s that whole mental health, mental welfare, that is not being addressed. But people like Mick are working to change that. He is one of the founders of the Retired Peer Support Officer Program established in 2014 with the aim of providing assistance to former officers who may be experiencing mental issues. In October this year Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton and Secretary Wayne Gatt of the Police Association Victoria will walk 1,000kms across Victoria to raise money for the program. I’ve worked across lots of different Chief Commissioners and lots of different Governments of both persuasions and it’s the first time I’ve seen someone actually put their hand up and say we’ve done it, we’ve got to fix it. And to me that’s… just incredible. With more awareness of mental health there have been increasing numbers of retired police officers coming forward for help. The $500,000 raised through the Head to Head walk will help to fund more training opportunities for the peer support volunteers who generously donate their time to the cause. So, it’ll support that. It’ll support the one day training courses. It’ll support professional development. More funding, means more opportunities to help transform the lives of retired police officers who are battling day-in and day-out with mental health issues. Probably with the support of Graham and the support of Wayne Gatt from the TPA they’re taking it to the next level. You know we’re helping serving, we’re helping the veterans and to me, if you look at that as an outcome, that has just been fantastic.

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