I’m leaving or have left the service, what now?  

The end of an era

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Coping with leaving the service

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Working for an emergency service is more than a job for most of you. It’s your vocation, family, and identity.

This means retirement can bring mixed emotions and there will be a sense of loss even if you’re looking forward to another career and to spending more time with family, friends, and hobbies.

If you need to retire early because of ill health, then this can be difficult. And when your career is ending because of a psychological injury, then this can be harder still.

Coping with leaving the service

Removing your Protective Armour
Retirement means you take off many parts of your Protective Armour:  your uniform, professional role, sense of identity and purpose, fitness regime and camaraderie of colleagues. It can be a stressful time, even if you’re optimistic for the future, and so it’s important you look after your physical and mental health.

Some of you will find other ways to contribute to your community through working in other public service roles or volunteering. Others will set yourselves challenges to help you maintain your physical (and therefore mental) fitness. You can think of these are your new armour.  

As you remove your protective armour, watch out for unfinished trauma business. It is inevitable there will be some jobs that have stayed with you through your service. These may be incidents that you can talk about and remember with sadness, but there may also be jobs that haunt you and which you’ve avoided thinking about for years. If there are, then retirement is when your brain will try to process them. You’ll be dealing with old injuries without your protective armour and that can be hard.

If this is happening, please have a look at the explanation and advice on What can I do if I'm not OK? part of the site to understand what is happening and what you can do to help yourself.  

If you need help please contact one of the national support services listed on the welcome page, your GP or The Ambulance Services Charity.
Retiring with a psychological injury
Emergency responders are at risk of psychological injury, it’s an occupational hazard. We have treatments that work and psychological injuries heal, but sometimes our recovery depends on us having no more exposure to hazardous situations.  

The process of ill health retirement with a psychological injury can be stressful. Even if you’re well supported by colleagues and management there can be feelings of failure mixed in with the loss and perhaps relief. But if you don’t feel well-supported, then this process can be extremely difficult. A sense of being let down or betrayed by the organisation (see Moral Injury) is likely to make your injury worse and often leads to feelings of anger, shame, and despair. You may question the time you gave to the service or withdraw from colleagues to build your life away from it; further dismantling your protective armour when you’re already unwell.

It is important you have support through this process, from the clinicians treating your injury and from staff bodies. If possible, try to mark the end of your service. It’s not your fault that you got injured; there should be no shame attached to ill health retirement through psychological injury. 
Celebrating your service
Rituals help us cope with change and loss, so retirement events, including pre-retirement courses, are an important way of marking the transition to life outside the service. We need to make sure these rituals happen for those retiring through ill health as well as those completing their service.
Coping and self-care
Make use of the information and advice in the Coping and self-care section of this site to help you through this time of change.
Accessing help and advice
You can access support through the SAS Retirement Association and The Ambulance Services Charity and from the national support services listed on the Find help page