A police officer from Chichester is raising awareness of mental health issues among emergency service workers by cycling almost 1,000 miles for charity.
PC Ian Luxford, who has been a police officer in Chichester for five years and was a PCSO for six years before that, said he had seen colleagues struggling with mental health issues first hand.
The 49-year-old, who lives in Fontwell, is setting off on a nine-day ride from Lands End to John O’Groats this Saturday to raise funds for the mental health charity Mind’s Blue Light Programme, which delivers training and support to emergency workers.
The charity has found that emergency services staff and volunteers are more likely to experience a mental health problem than most people, but less likely to seek support.
Explaining why he thought this was the case, PC Luxford said: “You’re meant to be big and tough, it was a bit frowned upon to have mental health issues.
“That’s changed a lot, it’s become a lot more acceptable to say you’re struggling.”
Police face many unique pressures in their roles – from dealing with extreme violence to saving lives.
“People might say that’s what you get paid to deal with and it is, that’s what we signed up for,” he said.
“But you have that on top of your home life – we have the same problems back home as everyone else.
“It’s very difficult to get that time to just chill out.”
And as police numbers have decreased, the problem has worsened, he said.
When he started out, there would be eight officers in the section, which would mean you could take an hour or two between shifts, he said.
But now, as soon as one shift finished another would start, meaning there was no time to ‘take stock’ and process whatever had happened.
Police are also increasingly dealing with people with mental health issues.
PC Luxford was presented with a prestigious award earlier this year for his role in talking down a suicidal man from a bridge.
“At least twice a week we are dealing with someone with mental health issues,” he said.
He feared that seeing first hand the lack of funding in the mental health system and the pressure services were under could deter emergency service workers from seeking held.
“When you see people not getting the support that they need, that makes us more reluctant to come forward,” he said. “If you need support, where do you go?”
However he said there was a lot of work around mental health currently taking place in the police force, with many stations having specific mental health champions for people to talk to.
“That’s generally what most people need, is just to talk, to know that they are not alone,” he said.
PC Luxford said he was looking forward to setting off on the cycling challenge, which was something he had always wanted to do before turning 50.
As part of his fundraising drive, PC Luxford has roped in his colleague from Chichester, PC Max Hoar, who is also a singer and in a band called Winters Hill, to write a song in support of the challenge.
PC Luxford said it was ‘something a bit different’ and said of the song: “It’s just how I wanted it.”
Listen to the song, which is called Finish Line, here.
While he is aiming to raise more than £700 for the cause, PC Luxford said raising awareness was equally as important.
“If it makes someone think, yes, I need to speak to someone, that’s the result as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Donate to the cause via his justgiving page here.
PC Luxford will also be making daily updates on his journey on his website, which can be found here.