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How this father-of-three is sharing his PTSD recovery via Instagram

John Clarke enjoying time with his children, William, Finley and Caitlin and their puppy, Willow  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

John Clarke enjoying time with his children, William, Finley and Caitlin and their puppy, Willow Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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For years Pc John Clarke thought he was invincible, policing the streets of Ipswich and dealing with fatal car crashes, stabbings and intercepting drug dealers.

Pc John Clarke admits he felt guilty about not being the dad he thought he should be as he battled with depression and PTSD  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNPc John Clarke admits he felt guilty about not being the dad he thought he should be as he battled with depression and PTSD Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

But the death and destruction that he dealt with on an almost daily basis were slowly taking their toll on the successful police officer. So much so that earlier this year the father-of-three regrettably tried to take his own life.

"We had been to my daughter's family assembly in the morning," explained his wife Amy. "When we got back I told John I was popping to the supermarket to do a shop and when I came home I found a note."

Had it not been for a chance meeting with a dog walker, John's story could be very different.

The police were alerted and some of John's colleagues from Suffolk Constabulary came to his aid.

John Clarke spent 12 weeks at Woodlands after he tried to take his own life. he is sharing his recovery journey on Instagram  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNJohn Clarke spent 12 weeks at Woodlands after he tried to take his own life. he is sharing his recovery journey on Instagram Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

"They took me to Woodlands and they basically said I could either go in voluntarily or they were going to section me," admitted John.

It was only then that the true scale of his mental health issues would be realised.

He spent a total of 12 weeks at Woodlands, a mental health unit based at Ipswich Hospital but run by the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. He continues to receive treatment for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

John, 38, first started showing signs of the mental health condition last summer in the wake of the Tavis Spencer-Aitkens murder - he was the first officer on the scene and fought in vain to save the life of the Ipswich teenager.

John Clarke is undergoing CBT as he continues on his road to recovery after suffering a breakdown and spending 12 weeks at a mental health hospital in Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNJohn Clarke is undergoing CBT as he continues on his road to recovery after suffering a breakdown and spending 12 weeks at a mental health hospital in Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Realising that he "wasn't so good" in the aftermath of the tragedy, John turned to what had always been his saving grace - physical exercise - but even that could not help him.

"My wife noticed that there was something wrong. At home my personality changed, I wasn't sleeping very well, I was more irritable and I wasn't able to concentrate.

"For 17 years I had thought I was invincible and suddenly I was unable to do stuff. It was a shock to the system."

But still he felt unable to properly open up about what was happening.

"It is really hard just to talk to people, you don't have time at work and at home you are always busy, so you just bottle it all up."

The next serious collision John went to would be the one that broke him, and he was signed off work.

He has not returned since.

"I couldn't hide it any more," he said. "I was really depressed, I had no sense of worth and I was quite embarrassed and ashamed.

"Going from being really busy to being at home and having time to reflect on it all was really difficult."

Looking back, John realises it was a series of incidents that he had dealt with. Each had a greater impact on him than he had realised.

"Unfortunately I attended quite a few fatalities, you are always so busy and there is no time to properly debrief after an incident. I remember I went to one on the A12 and the next day I was walking around Sainsbury's and just started crying."

John is dad to William, 12, Finley, nine and eight-year-old Caitlin but the strain of his working life made it difficult to be the dad he wanted to be.

"I found it hard to switch hats and go from cop to father," he said.

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John's mental health continued to deteriorate.

"In December I became really unwell and I started feeling anxious about going out," he said.

"I felt guilty about not being the same dad to the kids that I had been, I was ashamed that I wasn't able to have fun with them. I felt like I had let my wife and my children down.

"I had lost all concept, the fact I tried to take my own life proves that. It feels sad now to think I thought that was the right idea."

For a police officer who himself had dealt with people in mental health crisis, John was unable to see that he too needed the support of somewhere like Woodlands,

"I was embarrassed to be in hospital, to be taken through to a unit and to be looked after, to have my independence taken away and stripped of my possessions.

"I had gone from one side to the other."

His wife admits she felt the same, that her husband couldn't possibly need 24-hour care.

John said: "Woodlands was classed as a stabilisation period, it was a safe place where I was less likely to trip over a trigger.

"The problem is in Ipswich everywhere I go, I remember an incident that happened there but in hospital there were no triggers, I was living in a sterile environment."

He praises the staff for their care and patience, offering fitness classes, art sessions and music therapy.

John was released but after a week he started to deteriorate rapidly and was re-admitted.

During his time in hospital John decided to open up about his experience and used his Instagram channel to share his progress, and his setbacks.

"I wanted to show the true level of my suffering," he said.

"I had left all my colleagues to carry on doing that role and I wanted to give them a heads up that you need to care for yourself. I wanted them to realise that they shouldn't risk their mental health like I had."

His posts have attracted attention all around the world.

"It has helped the recovery knowing I don't need to be ashamed," said John this week, as he settles back into family life at home in east Ipswich.

John is undergoing intensive cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as he continues on the long road to recovery.

"Going over everything is hard, it is draining. We are going through incidents which I hadn't thought had affected me but they had. All of them have come back to haunt me."

And most importantly he is spending more time with his wife and children, and proving that it is okay not to be okay all the time.

"The kids have been really positive," he said. "At their age I had no idea about mental health but by being totally open with them I hope it helps them understand their own mental health in the future.

"Maybe our generation will be the last generation to have that stigma attached to mental health."

Follow John's journey on Instagram

■ Need to talk? Call The Samaritans on 116 123 or email the charity here.

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