Sadly, another member of the AFP took their own lives. With questions finally being asked about the culture within those walls, I know that there is no easy solution.
As someone who has worked within the AFP, it pains me to read that another of us has taken our lives. Pain, not in the feeling that we could have done something, in that we’ve not changed. The culture prohibits it. The headlines might scream the grim statistics, in that four of us have taken our lives in two years, but the problem is far more systemic than that.
Not too long ago, the death of operative Dean McGrath made headlines, not because of his visceral, awful end, but due to the comments his family made, in that his mental health issues were exacerbated by the lack of support within the AFP. McGrath, through seeking help, became subject to an acidic element that walks through the halls of the AFP, a fear of weakness. In admitting that he was struggling to process his actions, he became the problem. He was deemed to be weak, earning the unfortunate sobriquet “Magoo” after he failed a psychiatric evaluation, which enabled further taunting through the application of empty alcohol bottles, in reference to his self-medicating.
In an affidavit to the Victorian Workcover Authority, McGrath illustrated both his feelings, and what we routinely face: “…my mood varies from sadness to tears to anger. I experience flashbacks of bloodied, dead bodies. I feel anxious all the time. I suffer from headaches. I am hyper-vigilant. I feel naked without a gun. I have little enjoyment in life.”
This is nothing new, but so is not openly discussing it. Humility is seen as weakness, discussing your problems openly, is seen as a risk. We must sit on the edge, and as the business end of the spear, we must remain sharp. It’s an open secret that your problems should stay at home, or you won’t have a career.
However, the conditions of our role makes silence a destructive force. Worse than the violence, worse than the evil we’re tasked to stop. The very nature of our actions, which is often the most primordial, most brutal we’re capable of, live on long after the moment has passed. Within the AFP, there’s an apex predator mentality, as there is in all environments that include the routine of taking lives, in that we keep what we kill. Curios, tokens and souvenirs are often taken, and prized. What we’ve done is often only spoken of in congratulatory terms. The destruction of another person’s cranium is graded like a school project. You keep what you kill.
Another contemporary example is the problems within our military, both in the ritual taking of objects (an example would be the Nazi flag flying over Afghanistan), and in the taking of our own lives. The rot starts early. If one shows difficulty in the job, that person is marginalised, either in outright bullying (like McGrath), or in more subtle alienation. You lose your mates before you leave. When you do, you often face the challenges of suburbia alone. It’s a path you walk by yourself: the self-medicating, the flaming of relationships, the self-immolation suffered through losing your purpose and collecting pity compensation. You train so hard to become what eventually unravels you, and that is the problem, especially when you feel you can’t talk to people you know are feeling the same. You feel defective for feeling. You feel weak for no longer wanting to do it.
As for why it continues to happen, I do have a clue. In layman’s, weakness is a mirror. In order to take a life, you turn that person into an object. They’re not people with feelings or motivations, they’re a thing. It’s simple binary. It’s you or them. If you didn’t do x they could have done y. They’re a tango, a target, a threat. Those who admit regret, or admit problems promotes the question in every person who is asked to make the same choices, one we’re trained to suppress. Our lifetime is one avoiding that concept from resurfacing. We’re taught this early, and we cling to it. It’s why those who question it, or pause to think on it, are perceived as weak, or crazy. It’s easier to attack them, then having our focus be on that very human question.
We’re a product of our environment, a result of our training. We become this, in order to fulfil the role. A massive problem exists, but left to our own devices, we’ll handle it as we always have.
It’s what we know.