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Constable Matt Davis is still working on the frontline and still has rough days, “but I’m still here”.

Reaching out to heal within

The tiny Central Districts town of Marton is a long way from the rest of the world, but, thanks to the efforts of one police officer, international bonds are being forged from there through the shared experiences of emergency responders.

Last June, Constable Matt Davis, a member of Marton’s public safety team, set up the International Emergency Services Workers Support Network on Facebook.

He didn’t really know what to expect when he started it; he just wanted to reach out to others after he’d come through his own struggle with PTSI (post-traumatic stress injury) demons.

The response was, perhaps fittingly… rapid.

The closed group, open only to emergency service workers, their families and mental health professionals, has, to date, attracted 1639 members.

Matt and two other page administrators now work across several times zones, monitoring content, uploading resources and responding to new members from New Zealand, Britain, Canada, Europe, the United States and Australia.

Most members, an even mix of men and women, are ambulance staff and many of the police members are based in Britain.

Matt says the site’s primary purpose is as a meeting point, to share posts, “vent or just acknowledge that you’ve had a bad a day”.

It’s certainly been helping Matt.

After working as a cop in Britain and then New Zealand, Matt found himself in a bad place several years ago after he took on family harm work. It turned out to be “the icing on the cake”. Coupled with the ongoing demands of policing, he began to suffer a major depression and contemplate suicide. Despite a supportive boss and colleagues, it was tough going for him and his family. He took a few months off work and, with the help of medication, was able to return to the job and eventually came off his meds.

Then, a few years ago, he was involved in a potentially life-threatening incident on the job. “My car was deliberately rammed and I thought I was going to die. That resulted in a brain injury and PTSI, which very much affected my family life.”

When his marriage broke up, he sought help. “I saw a psych for six months and it was the best thing I did. All arranged through work, thankfully. It includes a lot of talking and mental exercises.”

Matt, 44, is still working on the frontline and says he still has rough days, “but I’m still here”.

He’s open about having experienced PTSI and although he knows there are good support services provided by Police and other emergency service organisations, he also knows there is still stigma attached to getting help at work.

“That’s why having a page outside the organisation can help. You might not need to see a psychiatrist or counsellor, but just knowing that what we deal with has an effect on you, and that it’s okay to be affected, is half the battle.”

“Sometimes, the only people who really understand what you’re going through are people who are going through it themselves,” he says.

His struggles with PTSI began a long time ago and it took several years to get a diagnosis and to recover. This year, however, he has had some good news. He has had a PTSI claim with ACC accepted as a workplace injury.

“It’s not about making us a whole load of bleeding hearts,” he says. “It’s about saying, ‘Look, this is just reality’.”

As for the Facebook page, Matt says he is pleased to have done something more to help others than just think, “What can I do?”

“None of us are ever alone, though we may feel it some days.”

Apart from the Facebook page, Matt and a colleague from FENZ (Fire and Emergency NZ) are exploring ways to streamline the process for accessing help from outside agencies. “My journey took over two years, then six months from formal diagnosis to resolution. These timescales are, frankly, unacceptable.”

To apply to join the International Emergency Service Workers Network Support page, search for the page on Facebook, click “Join” and answer a few set questions.

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