This week I was supposed to meet two local cops and their police dogs for a walk to raise awareness of mental health issues, but one of them stood me up.
Turns out it was for a very good reason.
A man had threatened self harm in bushland near Mount Keira, and Senior Constable David Cole and his police dog Munsta were deployed to search for him.
It was the same day firefighters and paramedics were called in after a body was found under Sea Cliff Bridge.
Times are tough right now, Senior Constable Mitch Keenan told me as we, along with his general purpose police dog Mike, walked beside Lake Illawarra at Mount Warrigal.
I'm dealing with mental health related incidents either looking for people, people trying to hurt themselves. Definitely a big increase.- Senior Constable Mitch Keenan
When he first started as a police officer 17 years ago, he estimates mental health incidents made up about 10 per cent of call outs, now it's around 50 per cent.
"I'm dealing with mental health related incidents either looking for people, people trying to hurt themselves. Definitely a big increase," he said.
Unfortunately, he said, mental health issues are not restricted to job.
"I've got a lot of close personal friends within the organisation who are dealing with some big mental health issues, some battles of their own," he said.
"There's a lot of pressure that comes with this job and that, exacerbated by everything that's happened in the world in the last five years with COVID.
"It's certainly taken its toll on a lot of people within the organisation and a lot of other people around me."
Snr Const Keenan agrees with Talk2MeBro's philosophy - to talk, not suffer in silence. And, the charity's motto "it's a rough patch, not a rough life" resonates with him.
He's pretty open, he said, about what's bothering him, and after a tough day you'll find him out exercising, gardening or hanging out with his kids.
"My kids always bring me right back down to earth and give me a different perspective on life, and it focuses me on what's important and what's critical in my little world. You sort of sometimes get lost in everything else that's going around," he said.
Note: The man who threatened self harm was found and helped by Snr Const Cole and his police dog Munsta.
I've registered to walk and raise funds for Walk With Me and I've set a personal goal of 120 kilometres to help those struggling. So far I've walked 86 kilometres.
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