Mental Health Awareness week: Meet Family Liaison Officer DS Stephen Hough
Main article content
A detective sergeant who supports bereaved families throughout homicide investigations has spoken about the value of mental health as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.
DS Stephen Hough is one of GMP's team of qualified family liaison officers who offer support to bereaved families and provide them with a direct point of contact to the police throughout a criminal investigation.
The 49-year-old, who has spent his entire policing career on the Salford district of GMP, joined our roster of specialist FLOs in 2019 and has since helped families going through the most difficult time of their lives in seven homicide investigations.
The emotional and mental challenges that can come with the role are ones that Steve finds rewarding when he sees the impact his work has on families and investigations, saying: "I say to people that it's odd to say this but I enjoy it - I really do, it's a very satisfying role.
"It's a tough job but it's very rewarding as well as you're going into a family at the lowest point they'll ever be and it's part of your responsibility to help them through it and make that journey as easy as possible for them under the circumstances. You get that rapport with them and see them come through the other side of it.
"The family is the central focus in an investigation and the role we have is crucial. Our primary role is as an investigator but we're also there to support the family and help to understand what they're doing through to build their trust.
"It's about keeping that professional link with the family and keeping them updated through the investigation and being there for them as that stability as we (the police) are the ones they look up to to bring them justice."
In his two decades at GMP, Steve has experienced almost the full variety that life on the frontline as a police officer has to offer.
He counts himself fortunate to still be alive to serve after twice surviving life-threatening cardiac arrests - the first while on duty in 2012 out of the blue at Swinton police station when colleagues were able to work miraculously to save his life.
Those experiences took a real toll on Steve's mental health and made him appreciate the importance of having someone there to speak to in tough times.
Steve added: "I wasn’t able to function 100% after the first one and I was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks as my defibrillator, which was fitted after 2012, kept becoming detached, and I had no control over it. After the second one in 2015, I found it quite hard to deal with as I only survived due to the fitted defibrillator.
"I'm quite happy to talk about it as it helps me and I want people to be able to speak out themselves if something happens in their lives because it does help when you talk about it."
After his second scare, Steve took up the offer of counselling and is now an advocate for encouraging people to take up the offer of talking out about their mental health.
After finishing his FLO course one Friday in 2019, Steve was deployed to his first job the following Monday - something he says was initially daunting but knew it was a challenge he could take on. "We're all human at the end of the day and you could be there with a mother that's identifying their son and it's tough but you can’t show it yourself as you need to be stoic for them.
"There are times when you struggle and it's important to talk about it as it helps and we are entitled to a referral to occupational health after a deployment. I've not needed it yet but I'm aware of it, and the moment I think I need to use it then I will do."
Away from duty, Steve does quite a bit of socialising, walking, and jokes he tries a bit of running here and there too to help with his mental wellbeing.
He adds, though, that the role in itself can provide him with a feeling that supports his mental health. "You do take satisfaction from doing a good job and when you see the family come through it and that makes you think 'I've done something right here' and that helps as well.
"But it is important to have other things as well going on in your life, whether it's exercise or just something for yourself to take your mind off things."
More information about mental wellbeing can be found on the Mental Health Foundation website here: www.mentalhealth.org.uk