Blue Hope founding director Detective Sergeant Andrew Ayres and Michelle Schlitter. Picture: Liam Kidston
Blue Hope founding director Detective Sergeant Andrew Ayres and Michelle Schlitter. Picture: Liam Kidston

Road trip to support police officers’ mental health

AN ORGANISATION providing mental health support for the state’s police will embark on a road trip through Central Queensland to connect with officers and help save lives.

Blue Hope founding director Detective Sergeant Andrew Ayres, a police officer for nearly 30 years, said the road trip was part of a month-long regional campaign called the ‘Shout a Cop a Cuppa Coffee’ Tour 2020.

Det Sgt Ayres said Blue Hope staff would drive from Brisbane on Thursday, October 1 to visit Miriam Vale, then Moura and Woorabinda on October 2, and Blackwater on October 3.

“It’s really important to catch-up with police in regional and remote areas because in some ways they can fall through the cracks when it comes to support systems,” he said.

“While some officers embrace the lifestyle, others struggle with the isolation and the workload.

“I know for example, that when I get sent to a job in Brisbane, I’ll be supported by several crews, but at smaller police stations, they can be forced to drive hours and try to deal with several other call-outs at the same time.

“We want to give them an opportunity to come along and have a conversation, free coffee and some food – and hopefully that will help put a smile on their face and makes their day a bit easier.”

Det Sgt Ayres helped launch Blue Hope after a colleague committed suicide in 2014.

The group, which is run “by police, for police”, currently has more than 200 clients.

“During our ‘Shout a Cop a Cuppa Coffee’ Tour 2020, the more people we can get talking about mental health issues and suicide, the more likely we can help prevent it,” Det Sgt Ayres said.

Det Sgt Ayres said the added responsibility of enforcing COVID-19 restrictions had affected the mental health of police.

“On top of their routine policing responsibilities, officers now have the added responsibility of coordinating shutdowns and encouraging social distancing under COVID-19 health protocols,” he said.

Michelle Schlitter’s 59-year-old husband Bruce Cooper, a former police officer with PTSD and depression, committed suicide.

Ms Schlitter praised the work of Blue Hope and urged current and former police to reach out for help.

“If Blue Hope can save another family from the trauma we went through, then it will well and truly be worth it,” she said.

“Just reach out for help and start that initial conversation – the rapport and trust will build from there.

“They do an amazing job, honestly I wouldn’t be where I am today without their ongoing support.”

Blue Hope operates a confidential 24-hour support hotline on 1300 00 BLUE.

If you need help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.