I’m leaving or have left, what now?  

The end of an era

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Coping with leaving the service

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Your work or volunteering role can be a vocation, a big part of your identity and a second family.

This means retirement or leaving can bring mixed emotions. There may be a sense of loss even if you’re looking forward to new challenges and having more time to spend with family, friends, and hobbies.

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

Coping with leaving

Removing your Protective Armour
Leaving 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 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 you can access this through your GP, the national support services listed on the Find Help page or find information about service specific support on Your Lifelines.
Leaving or retiring with a psychological injury
Emergency responders and others in trauma-exposed roles are at risk of psychological injury, it’s an occupational hazard. And sometimes recovery depends on having no more exposure to hazardous situations.

Leaving with any kind of injury will be hard. It’s likely that your role is an important part of your life and you’ll miss the camaraderie and all the other positives associated with being part of your team.

If you need to leave because of a psychological injury, then the response of your colleagues and the organisation is very important. Even if they’re supportive, you may experience feelings of failure mixed in with the relief and loss, and the process of ill health retirement for emergency service employees can be long and stressful.

If you don’t feel well-supported, then leaving can be extremely difficult. A sense of being let down or betrayed by your organisation (see 'moral injury' on  what can I do if I'm not ok) is likely to make your injury worse and can lead to feelings of anger, shame, and despair. You may question the time you gave to the organisation or withdraw from colleagues, losing more of your protective armour when you’re already unwell.

Some of you may be leaving or retiring without anyone knowing you’re injured. Volunteers in particular might give another reason for leaving their role, perhaps citing the demands of family or work life. This secrecy, usually driven by stigma and shame, can leave you alone and isolated at a time when you really need support. We hope the information on this website helps you see that this is not your fault or a sign of weakness and that there is help available.

Where 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 leaving through psychological injury. Please get the support you need in this process.
Celebrating your service
Rituals help us cope with change and loss, so retirement events are an important way of marking your service and helping the transition to life beyond your work or volunteering role. How does your organisation recognise the service you and your family have given to the community? Do these rituals still happen for those stopping through ill health? It is important to recognise and honour the contribution you've made.  
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 further help and advice
You can Find Help through this transition including from some service specific organisations in Your Lifelines.

Your service, your Lifelines

Visit the web pages of Lifelines Scotland Ambulance, Fire & Rescue, Police or Volunteer Responders for extra resources tailored to each service and more information about the specific help available from different organisations.