Sharan Nicholson-Rogers has a plea for the minister: “Don’t let any more families lose their husband, wife or parent by not making changes that you know will make a difference.” Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHANSOURCE: ILLAWARRA MERCURY
Sharan Nicholson-Rogers watched her husband change from a happy-go-lucky police officer into an unpredictable man prone to violent and emotional outbursts.
The gentle bloke she loved grabbed hold of her one day and shoved his gun down her throat, telling her he couldn’t live any more because of what he was doing to their family.
Eighteen months later, Detective Sergeant Scott Andrew Nicholson took his own life.
That was 19 years ago.
Today Mrs Nicholson-Rogers is as determined as she was the day her husband died to bring about change.
She is calling for the establishment of a centre of excellence – a place where police officers can go for respite, support and treatment from mental health professionals.
“I know guys in the job right now who are crippled with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder],” Mrs Nicholson-Rogers said.
“They’re still working, doing their best to stay in the job, but they need help.
“So many have gone through poor management and there is complete contempt for anyone who falls. They will kick you to the kerb.
“[Sufferers] need a place where they can go, feel safe, be honest about the fact they need help to cope and a place where they can get the best available support from experts in the field.”
Mrs Nicholson-Rogers sought help for her husband when she saw the signs he was losing control.
“He became this monster, he couldn’t help it, everything triggered him,” Mrs Nicholson-Rogers recalls.
“I’d find him curled up in the foetal position, crying and crying.
“One night we had a bunch of friends over, we cooked lamb on the Weber and I brought it in for him to cut up and he just lost it. He started smashing the kitchen up and screaming.”
Later he revealed the charred lamb reminded him of two children he’d seen burnt to death in a caravan.
Detective Sergeant Scott Andrew Nicholson with his family.
“The kids were the same ages as ours,” Mrs Nicholson-Rogers said.
She urged her husband to talk to his boss about his emotional well-being and asked him to contact police welfare.
“He said to me ‘Are you serious? They’ll say go to the pub and have a drink, get over it’.
“He didn’t drink much then but he soon learnt to so he wouldn’t be labelled a ‘sheila’.
“They get this sick sense of humour, that’s the way they get through it. Down at the pub or the bowlo for a debrief then the wives are left to pick up the mess at the end.”
Mrs Nicholson-Rogers and her two children have been to hell and back since her husband’s 1996 suicide.
It was only through counselling that Mrs Nicholson-Rogers, a health promotions officer with NSW Health, realised the true impact on her children.
“The day Scott had the gun down my throat, my seven-year-old son witnessed that. I didn’t know at the time. It’s impacted on them terribly. As they got older they realised the enormity of what had happened. It’s been a really rough road for us.”
Mrs Nicholson-Rogers holds a holiday snap of her young family including her late husband, Scott Andrew Nicholson. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN
Scott spent 13 years in the job, with stints in Camden, Campbelltown and a one-man station in the country.
He died aged 37.
Mrs Nicholson-Rogers reached out for help when things got really bad.
“I contacted police welfare the day after he went off his head about the barbecue, I told them he wasn’t well. He had his gun taken off him [temporarily]. They suggested maybe he should stay home, play housewife more, take more holidays, go for walks at night, debrief with his mates, that’s it.
“He was suffering PTSD and he was told the best thing he could do is exercise.”
Then one night Detective Sergeant Nicholson came home and told his wife he had resigned. Six months later he was dead.
“We had been asking for help for a while, through his bosses. I tried senior management,” she said.
“At one point when he got violent with me I said I’d had enough and I would have him charged if something didn’t change.
“They said ‘Please don’t because we will have to take his gun off him’. I told them he needed help, he was a loose cannon, he will hurt someone.”
Mrs Nicholson-Rogers said suggestions he and other struggling officers were simply not right for the job was a cop-out.
“I hear the same thing today, young guys now being told maybe they’re not right for the job, maybe they should get out. Well no-one is right for a job where day in, day out, they deal with trauma. Layer on layer it consumes them and no-one can take that without the proper support.”
Mrs Nicholson-Rogers with her children.
Mrs Nicholson-Rogers, a nurse familiar with the trauma of frontline emergency, is one of several police wives willing to work with government and police officials to create the centre of excellence.
“We can give a family perspective to help them set up a place where police can go in the short term and stay if they need to and feel safe, where they are not going to feel compromised or spied on by insurance companies.
“We need change. The attitude of senior management has got to change.
“Right now, if you say you’ve got a problem, you’re not coping, the bosses think ‘Oh great there’s another one off sick. That means a man down, overtime, it’s the cost.”
Mrs Nicholson-Rogers and a group of police wives believe they have a solution and are urging NSW Police Minister Stuart Ayres to work with them.
“We need change. The attitude of senior management has got to change.”
“I’m one of the lucky ones who have healed to a degree and married again to a man who totally supports my fight for change,” she said.
“I would like to see him meet with us, it’s not about us canning him, it’s about working together collectively with all our experience as families, to pick our brains on what they can do to make a change. Hiding from it is not the answer.
“They can’t keep turning their back. There are more and more suicides and experienced cops are dropping out. They are losing an experienced workforce that can be real value.”
Mrs Nicholson-Rogers has a plea for the minister: “Don’t let any more families lose their husband, wife or parent by not making changes that you know will make a difference.
“Just take a minute or two of your time to listen to my children if you can’t talk to me, see the pain and grief in their eyes and I assure you it will change your mind and you will work to make positive changes.”
The NSW Police Minister was contacted by the Mercury but so far has not responded.
The NSW Police Force has provided details of the programs and initiatives already in place for preventing PTSD and supporting its officers.
For help and counselling: Lifeline 131114;Suicide Call Back Service 1300 65946
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